New Brunswick

Saint John women's homeless rate higher than national average, study shows

More women are homeless in Saint John compared to the national average, according to a national initiative to track homelessness across Canada.

Point-in-Time homeless study counted 200 people in Saint John, Moncton, Fredericton and Bathurst

The Point In Time Homelessness Count will help shelters and organizations find a way to get people shelter. (CBC)

More women are homeless in Saint John compared to the national average, according to an initiative to track the number of people living on Canada's streets.

Saint John, Moncton, Fredericton and Bathurst were among the 30 Canadian cities that participated in the Point-in-Time count, which took place between Feb. 19 and 22.

Volunteers found 13 people experiencing "absolute homelessness" in Bathurst, 50 in Fredericton, 60 in Saint John and 77 in Moncton.

Michael MacKenzie coordinated the count for Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton. (Amy Grant/CBC)

A further breakdown of those numbers found 45 per cent of those counted in Saint John were women, and 55 per cent were men.

The national average for homeless women is 30 per cent, said Michael MacKenzie, the coordinator for the Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton count.

"That's a really close [gender breakdown], it's quite different from what we found in Fredericton and Moncton," MacKenzie said Thursday in an interview on Information Morning Saint John.

"The most common cited reason was domestic abuse by a spouse or partner."

In Fredericton, 26 per cent of the city's homeless population were women, 71 per cent were men, and three per cent declined to answer.

In Moncton, 29 per cent were women, 70 per cent were men and one per cent was transgender.

About 150 trained volunteers talked to people staying in shelters and transitional housing, and to those sleeping without a shelter on the nights of the count.

MacKenzie said volunteers identified common unsheltered areas and approached everyone they saw.

"Homelessness has many faces so we don't judge whether we think someone is or isn't homeless," he said.

"It's likely we missed one or two."

The Point In Time Homelessness Count will help shelters and organizations in the city find a way to get people shelter. Coordinator for the count, Michael MacKenzie shares the details. 9:58

While not included in the official count, volunteers also spoke to several individuals who previously experienced homelessness, including one man who was working for government while he was sleeping in his car.

"It reminded everyone of the complexity of homelessness, and I think it was real eyeopener for people," said MacKenzie.

Aside from domestic abuse, participants also noted incarceration, addictions and mental illness as contributing factors to their homelessness.

Hidden homeless not counted

The Point-in-Time homeless study didn't count Canada's "hidden homeless" — people who live with friends or relatives on a temporary basis as they have nowhere else to go.

"That's an issue we need to acknowledge," MacKenzie said.

"If we were to apply our methodology to the hidden homeless, we almost need to access every home on one night to see if people are couch surfing in those houses."

MacKenzie would like to include the hidden homeless in some way if the one-day census is attempted in the future.

While a formal count may not be possible, he says they should have an opportunity to share stories about their needs, and whether they're being provided with the services they require.

The count was conducted in partnership with the Community Council on Homelessness in Saint John, the Community Action Group on Homelessness in Fredericton, the Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee, the Homeless Community Network Inc. and the Bathurst Youth Centre.

The data will be used as a baseline to measure changes over time.

It will also be a resource for community groups and shelters to determine how they can best help their clients.


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