Montreal Homelessness Count finds 3,016 homeless people in city

Montreal’s first official homelessness census released today offers details about those living on the streets, and organizers hope the new data spurs action to address the problem.

10 per cent of city's homeless population is aboriginal, new survey shows

Organizers of the new Montreal homelessness survey are hopeful the data will lead to improved programs to address the issue. (CBC)

Montreal's first official homelessness census released today offers new details about who lives on the streets.

The survey, conducted over several days in March, counted 3,016 homeless people in the city, 76 per cent of whom are men.

The findings were released Tuesday by Mayor Denis Coderre and representatives from the Montreal Homeless Count, the organization behind the project.

The figure is 10 times less than an earlier estimate of 30,000 homeless people in Montreal put forward by community groups. It's also less than the recorded number of homeless in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto.

The group will also conduct another census this summer, when the weather is more favourable to people sleeping outside.

Key findings:

  • 76 per cent of homeless people in Montreal are men.
  • 93 per cent of the people who sleep outside are men. 
  • 54 per cent of people who live in transitional housing are women. 
  • 44 per cent of people experiencing homelessness were born in Montreal.
  • Immigrants represent 10 per cent of the homelessness population. 
  • 10 per cent of Montreal's homeless population is aboriginal, even though less than one per cent of Montreal's total population are indigenous.
  • Veterans represent six per cent of Montreal's homeless.

More than 800 volunteers were deployed across the city to meet people on the street and ask them about their living arrangements.

Surveys were conducted in the downtown core and surrounding boroughs, but team members also spoke to people at day centres to get a sense of the number of "hidden homelessness."

"In the West Island, what we're told is that there's no street homelessness at night to speak of so that's why it's important to do the day centres, where in fact you might get young people couch surfing in the basement of a friend," said James McGregor, the general manager of the project.

"It's a different kind of homelessness. It's what's called hidden homelessness, so that's what we're hoping to get a better picture."

Similar surveys have been conducted in other North American cities, but this was the first time it was done in Montreal.

Volunteers interviewed people like Victor Derry, who says he has lived on the street for 15 years. (Tanya Birkbeck/CBC)
Eric Latimer, a McGill University professor and researcher responsible who also worked on the survey, said there are plans to repeat the count every two years.

Armed with these detailed figures, Latimer said he wants the city and the province to take steps to address the issue. 

"Ultimately, I would hope that we will put in place programs to actually help people who are homeless get housed," he said.

"There are some of those programs starting up right now and probably we need to increase their number."

For his part, Coderre committed at Tuesday's announcement to "finding solutions together" to address the problem.

The Douglas Mental Health University led the survey, but was helped by a number of partners, including the YMCAs of Quebec, working in partnership with the city.