$300K spent on hospital care for homeless in last 6 months, says survey

The Region of Waterloo has released the results of a recent survey on local homelessness, which shows over $300,000 was spent on emergency room visits and ambulance transfers in the last 6 months. The region is now looking to a new plan of placing up to 40 indivuals into affordable housing.

Survey conducted between November 30 and December 1

From left, Sara Escobar from The Working Centre, Ron Flaming from House of Friendship and Pam Reano of ROOF debrief after completing the first survey of Waterloo Region's homeless population. (Amanda Grant/CBC )

Over $300,000 was spent in the last six months alone on hospital emergency room visits and ambulances for homeless people requiring care, a new survey carried out by the region shows.

That figure was based on regional data indicating the average cost to the healthcare system for an ER visit is $420. The average cost for a hospital ambulance trip is $348. The survey analyzed dispatch data and found that homeless people made 585 visits to hospital ER departments and were taken to the hospital by an ambulance 236 times.

"What we know is that folks who have housing, they have a significant reduction in visits to the ER, ambulance transports," said Marie Morrison, the manager of housing stability at the Region of Waterloo's community services department.

"That [figure] was just a snapshot at average costs in our community to show that these folks that we have registered have multiple stays. There were a couple of folks who had more than 30 ER visits in the last six months."

The survey, released Wednesday, aims to provide an overview of how and where the homeless community in Waterloo Region is living.

Regional staff and volunteers canvassed shelters and streets on Sunday and Monday. The survey identified 339 people as homeless, 318 of whom were identified as survey candidates. Of the 318 candidates, 281 completed the survey, and the rest either refused or were not available.

'A bit of a shock'

Here were some other major findings in the survey:

  • 85 per cent reported mental health issues.
  • 83 per cent reported substance use issues.
  • 41 per cent reported being a victim of a violent attack since becoming homeless.
  • 66 per cent did not finish high school.
  • Almost 20 per cent had post-secondary education. 

"It's always a bit of a shock sometimes," said Sarah Escobar, who works with the homeless at The Working Centre. "We know people, we know their faces, we know names. But to see it as a collective number, is sometimes hard to see and hard to hear."

Morrison said she was particularly surprised by the high percentages of addictions and mental health issues.

"We're going to take that data and we've set a goal over the next winter and short period of time to look at who are the most vulnerable and work to support them into housing," said Morrison.

She added the region has set a goal to get up to 40 people off the street and into housing over the 2014 to 2015 winter season. 

Morrison says the region will be the first Canadian community to take part in the 20,000 Homes Campaign, a national initiative which aims to house 20,000 of the country's homeless by 2018.


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