New count sheds light on homelessness in Prince Albert

Point-in-time count lead Brian Howell. -- Herald file photo.

The most recent data from a point-in-time (PIT) count of Prince Albert’s homeless population shows the issue continues to be a challenging one for the city, although researches are hesitant to draw too many conclusions.

A number of local organizations banded together to conduct Prince Albert’s PIT count on April 18, with the final numbers showing 47 homeless people staying in shelters and another 30 living unsheltered. The count does not include the number of “hidden homeless,” who drift between the homes of friends, family members, and even strangers. The count is part of a national effort to tally the total number of homeless people living in Canada.

Prince Albert PIT count lead Brian Howell said the true value of the data won’t be realized until Saskatoon and Regina release their own numbers. However, he added that it does show how homelessness in Prince Albert isn’t going away any time soon.

“It’s a bit hard to generalize too much, but obviously that’s a lot of people without a place to stay, either ending up in shelters or on the street,” Howell explained. “It’s a significant number. It does show the need for, I think, more housing space to be available.”

The picture has gotten somewhat better compared to previous homeless counts. On March 17, 2015, a similar count by the Living Skies Centre for Social Inquiry found that 125 individuals where sleeping in shelters or on the streets of Prince Albert. Howell attributes that drop to programs like Homeward Bound, which help homeless residents find affordable accommodation.

“You think, ‘where would we have been without these initiatives,” he said. “We probably would have had 80 on the street and 115 in the shelters. It just shows there’s more work to be done.”

Howell added that it’s difficult to draw parallels because it’s only one night of data, and the 2018 count was conducted much closer to the summer than in past years. Still, he said the results are troubling.

The April 18 count is just the first phase of the project, with efforts now shifting towards counting Prince Albert’s hidden homeless population. Howell expects that number to be “quite significant,” but added it’s difficult to make progress on the issue without a definitive number.

In the meantime, he’s hoping that a more proactive approach, with a focus on issues that cause homelessness like substance abuse and mental health concerns, will help stem the tide.

“For a small city like Prince Albert, we don’t really have the resources as much as the larger centres do,” he said. “It is a struggle for us to find accommodation for people.”

@kerr_jas •