A research team looking to get a clearer picture of the number of homeless people in cities across Canada is circling back to Prince Albert more than a year after their first visit to share their findings and learn more about the contextual issues impacting the community.
Since January 2021, the team from Lawson Health Research Institute travelled to 28 locations in every Canadian province and territory to meet with organizations, community leaders and those with lived experience to not only get more accurate numbers on homelessness at the local and national levels, but to learn more about who the individuals facing homelessness are and help work towards more targeted and accessible services.
During the initial phase, the research team spoke with hundreds of service providers and conducted focus groups around what the issues are and who they thought were being missed by their current approach.
“We believe the current method of estimating those numbers underestimates the size of the issues and often, the methods required that someone touches the homeless serving sector in order to be counted, but many people don’t,” said Scientist with Lawson Health Research Institute Cheryl Forchuk. “Once you get into the very small, rural and remote areas, they often don’t event have a homeless sector, so those communities end up being really left out of any equations.”
The research team has been working on an alternative method of identifying how many people are experiencing homelessness using health data information. After first experimenting with the approach in Ontario, they were able to find around three times as many people facing homelessness compared to the traditional method.
Forchuk said part of what they’re doing is seeing if this is an approach that could be applied nationally.
“Most of the communities we went to really thought what was happening was a local problem, but what we’re really trying to emphasize is it is in fact a national problem since every community we went to were experiencing these challenges and these increases,” she said.
After interviewing 400 people across Canada experiencing homelessness, Forchuk and her research team found that the current housing market, living in remote and rural communities, and the COVID-19 pandemic all had major impacts on the severity of the issue.
The Prince Albert homelessness forum will take place at the Prince Albert Indian & Métis Friendship Centre, starting at 9 a.m. on May 4.