Star Phoenix, August 20, 2015-
Saskatoon may be seeing growth in its homeless population, according to preliminary findings of the city’s third homeless count.
The study, conducted by the Community-University Institute for Social Research (CUISR) on June 22, did a point-in-time head count of the city’s homeless. This year, the number reached 450 people — 405 adults and 45 children — compared to 379 in 2012 and 260 in 2008.
The increase may be skewed by the larger geographical scope of the study, which included large parts of the city’s east side this time. Previous counts could have been higher had those areas been included.
“We set out to do what we hoped would be a more comprehensive and multi-faceted picture of housing and homelessness in Saskatoon than in the previous two counts,” said Isobel Findlay, co-director of CUISR and a professor at the Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan.
The study sent 80 volunteers throughout Saskatoon to collect data from about 700 people.
CUISR increased the range of the study for 2015 by extending its geography and by including the “hidden homeless” — people with provisional accommodations, colloquially known as couch surfers.
The survey provides only a snapshot of a single day in the city. Almost 50 per cent of the homeless people counted identified themselves as aboriginal. About 45 per cent said they had previously lived in foster care, and 16 per cent said they were employed.
It’s not clear if the homeless population has grown or if the expanded study accounts for the increase, said DeeAnn Mercier, spokeswoman for The Lighthouse Supported Living, which offers emergency shelter.
“Hopefully, there is a count done every year so we can get a better picture,” she said.
“It does show that on this particular day, 450 people slipped through the cracks. What was most heartbreaking was the number of children who are homeless went up. That tells me that single-parent families are more pressed than ever.”
Many of the children counted this year were living in shelters with a parent.
Housing costs were singled out as a primary issue facing homeless people.
“In terms of rent, the costs have doubled and in terms of housing prices they’ve tripled since 2001,” Findlay said.
“We now have over 25 per cent of people in the health region spend 30 per cent or more of their income on housing. That was a major finding.”
Mercier said more innovative thinking around affordable housing and other solutions is needed.
“We’re doing a lot of good work in Saskatoon, but this shows that there is still a lot of need for affordable housing,” she said.
The survey did indicate areas which were improving for the city’s homeless population, Findlay said.
“We have more shelter spaces. We have several initiatives going on to address housing issues and homelessness: housing first, rapid rehousing, the stabilizing units at the Lighthouse — a number of positive signs,” she said, noting the number of homeless who are sleeping outside dropped to 38 this year from 72 in 2012.
Findlay added that a large number of homeless people used city services, which suggests higher costs for taxpayers than simple prevention. She said 45 per cent used health clinics, 43 per cent visited hospital emergency rooms, 51 per cent used the Food Bank and 60 per cent used shelters.
“There’s a huge burden,” Findlay said. It’s a long list, but it’s just to give you an idea of what it costs us for people to be homeless.”