The number of people who used an emergency shelter in Saint John jumped by 25 per cent last year, a report released by the Human Development Council on Wednesday shows.
The group, which hopes to eliminate homelessness in the city within 10 years, is now calling on the community and common council to help reach that goal, said executive director Randy Hatfield.
A total of 341 people relied on the Salvation Army's Centre of Hope for men, the Coverdale Centre for women and the winter Out of the Cold program in 2012, up from 272 people the year before, according to the report.
Of those, 67 were youth, between the ages of 16 and 24.
"The Salvation Army is nowhere an 18-year-old or 19-year-old should be," said Hatfield, noting the need for a youth shelter.
He suspects the actual number of homeless people is even higher because the statistics don't reflect those who "couch surf" by staying with friends, reside in boarding houses, or make other temporary rental arrangements.
The average length of stay at the city's two year-round shelters, which have a combined 37 beds, is also lengthy, said Hatfield.
The Salvation Army's is the highest in the province at 31 days. It also has the highest occupancy rate of the province's eight emergency shelters at 88.5 per cent.
The Coverdale Centre's average length of stay was 19 days, with an occupancy rate of 61 per cent.
Meanwhile, Saint John's apartment vacancy rate is 9.7 per cent — the highest in the country, said Hatfield.
"So you combine that piece of information … and you think, 'How can we connect these dots?'"
Hatfield contends there should be a way to work with landlords to get homeless people away from shelters and into those vacant apartments, providing them with a place they can call their own.
He also wants city council to support affordable housing by allowing mixed residential developments.