By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
An in-depth study on homelessness in Durham shows that most are flocking to Oshawa in hopes of finding services that are not available in other communities, while also pointing out a discrepancy with regional data.
Earlier in 2017, Community Development Council Durham, in partnership with Durham Mental Health Services, spearheaded an initiative called the Point-in-Time (PiT) Count.
The PiT Count was conducted over a 24-hour period in mid-February in a number of communities across Durham Region.
The count analyzed the homeless population in the region with the hope of identifying how many individuals may encounter homelessness on a given night.
The findings of the count were recently presented to regional council.
Through the PiT count, 271 unique individuals and 34 families representing 98 unique individuals were documented as experiencing sheltered or unsheltered homelessness.
Those considered as unsheltered individuals generally live in public or private spaces without contract or consent, or locations not suitable for permanent human habitation, while sheltered individuals reside in emergency homeless shelters or women’s shelters.
According to the report, 74 per cent of Durham’s unsheltered homeless are situated in Oshawa.
Rob Adams, CEO of Durham Mental Health Services, says that many homeless people may congregate to Oshawa’s downtown because there are more services such as shelters or other housing options in comparison to other communities in Durham.
Oshawa Councillor Doug Sanders questioned if this shows Durham Region has better resources for homeless individuals.
However, Kate Bird, then executive director of Community Development Council Durham, suggested they cannot make that assumption.
“I think it shows we have a lot of work to do to answer those questions,” Bird stated.
Durham’s current plan to address homelessness is included in At Home In Durham, the region’s housing strategy for 2014 to 2024.
As reported earlier in The Oshawa Express, a 2017 progress report on the housing strategy claims there were zero episodes of chronic homelessness in Durham Region in 2015 and 2016.
However, the PiT Count paints a much different picture, claiming 48 per cent of those surveyed are chronically homeless.
Chronic homelessness refers to individuals or families who have been unsheltered or living in an emergency shelter for six or more months of a 12-month period.
In a July 2017 interview with The Express, Durham housing director John Connolly said the region based this claim on data from a federal system, the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS), which tracks the number of homeless people using the region’s programs and services.
Connolly says he was expecting there to be differences in their numbers and those within the PiT Count. Data from the PiT Count will help the region to look at homelessness from a more quantitative perspective, he adds.
“Going forward next year we will look at how we define not just chronic homelessness, but homelessness in general,” Connolly states. “It will allow us to capture better metrics.”
In 2018, the region will also participate in a provincially-mandated Registry Week, which Connolly says is meant to expand on the PiT Count and collect more in-depth data.
“We are trying to capture more information than from one single block of time and have a more comprehensive understanding of the situation,” he explains.
Of the 271 individuals, 214 were identified as non-dependents like single people, partners, family heads or other adults, while 57 were dependents or children.
The average age of these children was 7.8 years, with 60 per cent being between the age of infant to eight years old.
It was noted in the PiT report that homeless individuals using other means of habitation, such as temporarily living in motels/hotels or ‘couch surfing’ were not included in the count.
“Everybody has a story, we all know people who may be homeless,” Bird told councillors.
The PiT count also investigated how these individuals have found themselves in their current situation.
There are countless reasons why someone may end up homeless, but Bird says it can usually be attributed to one or two major events in a person’s life.
These include an inability to pay rent or mortgage, unsafe living conditions, conflict with or escape from abuse by a spouse, partner, parent or guardian, incarceration, addiction and substance abuse and mental and/or physical health issues.
Other agencies involved with the initiative included The Refuge, local food banks and library branches and the Brain Injury Association of Durham Region.
Adams says the PiT Count is extremely valuable because it gives very specific data for local organizations and municipalities to plan, develop and adjust programs around.
“Our hope is programming will adjust to the needs,” he says.
Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster called the information valuable but said it will be “all for not” if further action is not taken.
Bird says she is hopeful their work will receive attention from decision makers at all levels of government.
“Our hope is this won’t be a report that just sits there, and yes, something will come of it,” she added.
The Point-In-Time Count survey homeless individuals on a number of aspects. These are some of the highlights presented in the findings.
- Forty-eight per cent surveyed are considered chronically homeless, meaning they have spent six or more consecutive months without permanent housing
- The report found 52 percent of those documented were male, 47 per cent female, and one percent identified as a gender different from male or female, showing a difference in Durham’s trends from the rest of the nation, where 60 per cent of homeless individuals are identified as male.
- When considering demographics, the risk of being precariously housed affects all ages with adults between 26 and 50 representing 41 per cent of those identified as homeless. Children under 16 accounted for 19 per cent.
- Of the 34 families documented, 77 per cent were lone female families, while only 2 per cent were lone male families.
- Approximately 83 per cent of those surveyed indicated they require some service or support, with 66 per cent suffering from mental health issues, 47 per cent an addiction or substance problem and 46 per cent indicated they have a serious or ongoing medical condition.
- Education does not tend to be an identifiable security from a life of homelessness 45 per cent of those over 25 years of age had some post-secondary education
- Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) was listed at the source of income for 83 per cent of respondents, with only 10 per cent stated they were employed
- Nearly 27 per cent of identified homeless persons in Durham are indigenous or have indigenous ancestry, despite only 1.5 per cent of regional residents being part of the indigenous community.