In this bi-weekly blog series, I explore recent research on homelessness, and what it means for the provision of services to prevent or end homelessness. Read the first blog here.
Point-in-time counts, or PITs, have been considered as one potentially valuable method for developing snapshot data to understand homelessness in local communities. The Homeless Hub provides a toolkit to facilitate accurate PIT counts. London, Ontario has taken a slightly different approach to enumeration than the standard PIT methodology. Where PIT counts are intended to reach as broad a number of participants as possible to get an accurate number of individuals experiencing homelessness in a community on a given night, London has instead chosen depth in their enumeration. Rather than short surveys with as many people as possible, London conducted in-depth surveys with 406 participants.
Here are five important lessons we can learn from London’s results:
- Indigenous people continue to be vastly over-represented in homelessness. This finding is important as communities have begun to make moves towards reconciliation. In London, this has included recent development of new affordable housing for Indigenous people, engagement at the municipal council level, and the beginning of an Indigenous specific community plan on ending homelessness. However, while these are important first steps, there is clearly much, much more to be done.
- Child welfare is a pathway into homelessness for many. In the London data, 32% of participants had been in foster care or a group home. Researchers from McGill have identified this disturbing relationship that is a clear point where failed systems are having a downstream impact on other services. Child welfare should be an opportunity to change the story for youth with particular needs, not a pathway into homelessness.
- Homelessness is quite low among older adults. This is in part due to the reality that homelessness is bad for one’s health and life expectancy is statistically significantly lower for those without a home. However, it is also likely a testament to the fact that adults over 65 have access to much better income security through social assistance than younger adults. Older adults provide a natural control population that demonstrates that homelessness can be prevented through sufficient government income.
- Low income causes homelessness and increased income is a solution to homelessness. Following in the previous point, participants were asked to identify the cause of their housing loss and what they needed to find home. The top identified answer on both questions was income, the need for a more sufficient income. Therefore, the discussion of preventing and ending homelessness can’t be had without also addressing poverty in general.
- Quality of data beats quantity of data. The choice in London to focus on data quality versus an accurate snapshot of the breadth of homelessness on a given night has proven valuable. While the general public and media often seek a number of people experiencing homelessness, the deeper data instead allows for strategic decision-making around resources and activities. We don’t necessarily need a specific number to know that homelessness, and particularly chronic homelessness, are urgent issues in our community. Instead, we have data that points to some solutions to these issues.