The Niagara Region takes part in a federally mandated strategy to help determine the state of homelessness in Niagara.
“[Niagara Counts] is part of a strategy that helps determine the nature and the extent of homelessness. We are one of over 60 communities that are going to be conducting what we call a Point in Time Count. In Niagara we call it Niagara Counts. It is intended to provide a snapshot at a Point in Time, it is a given night or a period of time and that includes counting and surveying those in the community who are experiencing homelessness,” said Maggie Penca, the manager of Homelessness Services for Niagara Region.
The main portion of the count will be conducted on March 25, but also relies on a variety of community organizations to collect information as well. Service counts, magnet events, the street count and shelter counts all work towards establishing the numbers of homeless in the area.
“In order for us to be able to get a good sense across the community we are partnering with a number of agencies that offer services. So service counts take place at existing service [outlets such as those] that are offered to support people who are homeless. For example they could be those that offer a meal program [or] it could be [a] drop-in centre,” said Penca.
Magnet events help draw in individuals who do not access programs on a regular basis.
“One is for youth and the RAFT in St. Catharines will be holding a magnet event. And the other one is through our Indigenous partnership and they are going to be holding a magnet event at the Folk Arts Multicultural Centre. These are seen as a good practice to identify those populations that may have more hidden homeless and encourage participation and engagement from those populations,” said Penca.
According to Penca, the street count has volunteers going to locations where people experiencing homelessness are known to frequent. In 2018 there were 22 routes mapped to count these individuals. The emergency shelters and transitional housing are conducted through the agencies that support the people there.
The count is conducted by volunteers 18 and older and this year Penca is happy to note that all training spots are full for Niagara Counts so they had to close the sign up.
The 2018 count helped to not only give statistics on the homeless population. The 22 question survey also provides some statistics. In 2018, 625 people were experiencing homelessness. Out of this 625, 408 did the survey. Some choose not to participate. Of the 408 surveys completed, when asked where they were staying that night, 226 were staying in emergency shelters, 125 were in transitional housing, 29 with family and friends or couch-surfing and 14 were in unsheltered locations. The remainder had some form of sheltered space.
They also found that one in five respondents were youth between 16 to 24 years of age, 61 per cent had completed high school or greater and 36 per cent had loss of housing due to family breakdown from things such as violence or conflict.
According to Penca, conducting Niagara Counts helps to improve the decisions made in planning and programming. The 2018 count helped to increase spaces and make improvement in supportive housing programs.
“[Niagara Counts] a community engagement strategy too. We really work with partners to better understand the extent and nature. The success of Niagara Counts depends on our community agencies and our volunteers that help conduct the count and we can’t do it without our partners. It is important to talk about because it is a great way for communities to get engaged and learn more about the issue of homelessness,” said Penca.
For more information on Niagara Counts 2020, interested individuals are encouraged to visit niagararegion.ca/social-services/niagara-counts.