Edmonton’s 2016 Homeless Count occurred on the night of October 19 and during the day on October 20. Approximately 300 volunteers and 40 agencies participated in the Count. Enumerators identified 1,752 individuals experiencing homelessness on the night of October 19 and through the day on October 20, compared to 2,307 in 2014. Of these, 43% were sheltered, 22% were unsheltered and 35% were provisionally accommodated. In addition, 59% of individuals were chronically homeless. Women made up a quarter of the total number of individuals experiencing homelessness, and were more likely to have spent the night at someone’s place or in government-sponsored hotels.
During this year’s count, 146 children were identified as being homelessness, a 56% reduction from 2014. The survey portion of the count identified 108 independent youth, which is also a reduction of more than half from two years earlier. The average age of homeless individuals was 44 years, with seniors making up a smaller portion of the homeless population compared to Edmonton as whole.
Indigenous individuals made up just over half of the total number of individuals experiencing homelessness; a significant over-representation compared to the overall Edmonton population (5.3% as of 2011). They were also more likely to be unsheltered, compared to non-Indigenous individuals. In addition, over two-thirds of the female respondents were Indigenous.
The number of veterans was similar to the number observed in 2014. Enumerators identified 70 veterans experiencing homelessness, most of whom spent the night at a shelter or in public spaces. Over a third (34%) of veterans were “sleeping rough”, either in public spaces, makeshift shelters or vehicles.
The average length of homelessness was 3.5 years, with the average for Indigenous respondents much higher at 4.2 years, compared to 2.8 years for non-Indigenous respondents. A very small number (37) indicated that they had come to Canada as a migrant or refugee in the past five years, representing just 3% of the total. Over two thirds of respondents (68%) said they had stayed at an emergency shelter at least once in the 12 months preceding the count.
Nearly a quarter of respondents considered addiction/substance abuse as a contributing factor to their experience of homelessness. Job loss (20%) and family conflict (19%) were also frequently cited. In terms of sources of income, welfare (39%), informal employment (20%), disability benefits (17%) and employment (13%) were the most commonly cited, while 5% report not having any source of income.
The 2016 Homeless Count comes amidst an uncertain economic climate in Edmonton. High unemployment presents challenges to many Edmontonians and much more so for those with more limited means to cope with changes in the social or economic environment. While the rental market is no longer increasing rapidly, the availability of affordable housing is still extremely limited. Despite overall improvement, there remain specific populations – particularly Indigenous peoples and veterans – that have not seen relative or absolute reductions in homelessness and may need accelerated (and possibly more targeted) efforts in order to address homelessness and the myriad of associated issues.