Edmonton not taking part in federal homeless census

Edmonton will not participate in Canada’s first nationally co-ordinated count of the homeless population.

'We need to rely on good data,' says Homeward Trust CEO Susan McGee

The national homeless count is the first of its kind in Canada, but Homeward Trust will not participate over concerns with the federal government's methods. (CBC)

Edmonton will not participate in Canada's first nationally co-ordinated count of the homeless population.

Susan McGee, CEO of Homeward Trust Edmonton, says this new federal program is inherently flawed, and will provide an incomplete picture of poverty in Edmonton.

"We need to rely on good data," McGee told Edmonton AM radio show host Mark Connolly on Friday. "And if we're going to end homelessness nationally, we need to approach it in the same way.

"If you're going to solve a problem, you need to understand it."

This is the first time the federal government has tried to co-ordinate what has largely been a municipally driven project in big cities such as Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto. Homeward Trust and many other agencies across Canada have been critical of the plan since it was announced in May of 2015. 

The seven cities in Alberta that organize homeless counts — Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge — have all decided not to participate. 

'Hidden homeless' will be missed

McGee has misgivings about holding the count in January, when frigid temperatures push many homeless people off the streets. She says the timing of the federal program is designed to omit as many people as possible.

"There are people that are the most vulnerable in our community that we won't reach with a January count, that are either staying in really compromising situations or think they're safe staying in a place that is actually really life-threatening," McGee said.

She also noted the winter months are an especially stressful time for community partners that help the homeless, making volunteers hard to find.

Since 1999, Homeward Trust has co-ordinated its own enumeration during the month of October. It recruits hundreds of volunteers to help comb every corner of the city, looking for people living on the streets, alleys, parks and in the river valley. This program will continue, with the next survey set to take place later this year.

The last survey, in the fall of 2014, accounted for 2,307 homeless people living in Edmonton.

"They're not an absolute number; we know that they are consistently underrepresenting the homeless population, but it's important that we stick to the methodology," McGee said.  

The federal government is providing $1 million in funding to help communities pay for their counts, but Edmonton will not have access to those funds. McGee said $77,000 in federal grants had been earmarked for the Edmonton poll.


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