‘Funding follows the bad math’: Research project believes more people experiencing homeless than estimated

A research project looking at homelessness in Canada has found there are far more people living on the street than previously estimated.

Siloam Mission fills its 143 shelter beds every night and feeds roughly 500 people daily.

The organization looks to help people while they try to find housing, but it’s only a fraction of the unsheltered population.

“There are people who are couch surfing, who are staying in single-room occupancy hotels,” explained Luke Theissen, communications manager at Siloam Mission. “So there are a variety of people who we would consider to be experiencing homelessness but who we can’t really get a good count of on a given night.”

The Government of Canada estimates 235,000 Canadians are homeless — a figure Dr. Cheryl Forchuk from the Homelessness Counts research project believes is much lower than it actually is.

“We all recognize there’s an issue,” said Forchuk. “The problem is that the funding follows the bad math.”

Homelessness Counts is a Canada-wide research project being done by a team from the Ontario-based Lawson Health Research Institute.

The federally funded project’s goal is to better understand homelessness in Canada and find out how many people are experiencing it.

Forchuck said previous estimates relied on data from homeless resources like shelters, which miss many people living on the streets and don’t account for smaller communities.

“So we worked on developing an algorithm that uses health data, and we started in Ontario. That means everyone in the province who has a health card is in that data. So even if you live in a community with 100 people, you would still show up,” explained Forchuk.

Forchuk’s team has also been touring the country for three years to meet with service providers and those with lived experience.

While final figures haven’t been released yet, Forchuk is presenting preliminary results across Canada, making a stop in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

Forchuck said the data will highlight the various challenges certain regions face compared to others.

An example of that is the number of unsheltered Indigenous people in Manitoba compared to other regions.

“We have a much higher concentration of Indigenous people who are struggling, and I think the geography we have, we have more northern communities,” said Jason Whitford, president and CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg, who was at Forchuk’s presentation Tuesday morning.

The results of the project could also be used to better direct funding and steer policy.

“Something that would be hugely impactful and positive for the community we serve would be affordable housing. Social housing with rent geared to income or other ways of making it really accessible to people,” said Theissen when asked what he thinks would help the current situation.

Forchuk will present the preliminary results in Thompson next.

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