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Home News Homeless population growing, getting younger, Point-in-Time Count shows

Homeless population growing, getting younger, Point-in-Time Count shows

Homeless population growing, getting younger, Point-in-Time Count shows
River Bank Development Corporation executive director and Point-in-Time Count coordinator Brian Howell. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Prince Albert’s homeless population jumped from 77 individuals to 120 over the last four years, but housing advocates say the true increase is likely even higher.

The latest Point-in-Time (PiT) Count numbers released by River Bank Development Corporation on Thursday show a steady increase in homelessness in Prince Albert. PiT Count coordinator Brian Howell said it’s a sign all levels of government need to take the issue more seriously.

“I would say it’s bigger than the City,” Howell told reporters Thursday morning. “As a country, I don’t think we’re doing a very good job.”

River Bank and their community partners joined together to the evening of March 24, 2022 to count every person in a Prince Albert homeless shelter that evening. A few volunteers also canvassed parts of the City known to have a homeless population.

The final results show 63 sheltered homeless residents, and 57 individuals living on the street. Just one year ago, volunteers counted only 26 residents living on the street, meaning the unsheltered population has doubled in just one year.

Howell said the count is not a strict total, since some homeless residents, like couch surfers, are difficult to contact. He said actual number of homeless residents in Prince Albert could be as high as 200.

“We think there are lots of people that we missed,” Howell said. “For example, people are in apartment buildings, or people might be staying in encampments somewhere that we don’t know about, that sort of thing.”

The increase is in line with what other Saskatchewan communities are seeing. Regina’s point in time count found 488 homeless individuals—double their 2015 total of 232. Saskatoon’s PiT Count ended on April 28. The final numbers aren’t available, but Howell said they’re expecting to see an increase there too.

“I would say this is really a warning to our province, these sets of numbers in the major centres,” he said. “There’s something happening out there. There are more and more people who aren’t able to find a place to live, and we had better be starting to think about that (problem).”

Almost half of Prince Albert’s homeless population (40.6 per cent) is between the ages of 25-39. Roughly one quarter (26.5 per cent) are children under the age of 18, while 24.6 per cent are between the ages of 40 and 54.

Howell said almost all of those children were counted at family shelters, so they aren’t living along without their parents. However, he said it’s concerning to see so many young people without a home.

“In the past in Prince Albert, a lot of it (homelessness) has been older people who were caught up in alcohol,” Howell explained. “But, we seem to be seeing more and more and more young people. Along with the increase in numbers, I would say (we’re seeing) an increase in younger people.”

Howell said it’s difficult to say exactly why homelessness has increased in Prince Albert. He said many residents stay with friends or family members when they have nowhere else to go, but that may not be happening anymore due to fear of spreading COVID. Howell stressed they had no information to back up that theory.

The biggest factor, he said, is likely the gap between rising housing costs and the amount people receive in benefits.  Almost half (41.9 per cent) of homeless residents counted in the survey were receiving government benefits, but that amount wasn’t enough to get them into a stable home.

“Welfare rates are low everywhere in Canada,” he said. “The income distribution for the bottom 20 per cent is leading to lots of struggles with housing, lots of families having a hard time paying their rent and buying groceries.”

The actual amount of money someone receives from Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) varies depending on a number of factors such as how many children they have, if they have a spouse or a partner, and where they live. A single person can receive $540/month for shelter if they live in Prince Albert, while families with three or more children are eligible for $865/month. When combined with the Adult Basic Benefit (ABB), SIS benefits can increase to $855/month for a single person. When combined with the ABB and the Canadian Child Benefit, one adult with three children can receive as much as $2,799 in income support.

Howell said Canada’s goal should be getting people out of shelters and into their own homes and apartments. Howell credited the City for launching their homelessness initiative last December, but said it’s difficult for them to address the problem without outside help.

“We can take people who can’t find a place and with some support, place them in housing and with some further support, often times keep them there, but you need the commitment in terms of the resources to be able to do it,” he said.

“The cities aren’t really crazy about spending a lot of money on stuff, and unfortunately that’s what this will require.”

Men made up a slight majority of all homeless residents that were counted. Roughly 55.2 per cent of those counted reported spending time in a foster home.

Roughly 99 per cent of respondents identified as Indigenous. Howell said that might be the most glaring statistic of all, and shows just how important solving the homelessness crisis is to reconciliation.

“That really reflects 200 years of history in Saskatchewan, of residential schools, of failed agricultural policies, of federal government not properly funding education and housing on reserves, a multitude of things that everyone has kind of admitted that they’ve done,” Howell said. “We’ve had like 700 apologies over the last while. It’s time to stop the apologies and start writing the cheques to right this.”

The Point-in-Time Count is conducted every two years as part of a funding agreement with the federal government. The 2021 Point-in-Time Count was reduced in size due to COVID-19. Prince Albert’s last formal PiT was conducted in 2018.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the shelter portion of SIS as the entire total. This article has been updated to include the correct numbers. The Daily Herald apologizes for the error.