New Brunswick

Saint John housing programs more effective, but shelter use on the rise, report shows

Programs to get people into stable housing in Saint John are a success but don't seem to be making much of a dent in the city's homelessness rates, a new report shows.

More co-ordinated approach to homelessness needed, says Human Development Council

Outflow, the men's shelter in Saint John, had to turn 34 people away in November 2018 because it didn't have enough cots. (CBC)

Saint John's housing programs are housing more people than ever before, but the city doesn't seem to be making any progress on its overall homelessness rate, according to the Human Development Council's new Progress Report on Homelessness.

Emergency shelters are operating either at or over capacity and people staying longer, the 2018 statistics show.

Michael MacKenzie, the community development co-ordinator for the Human Development Council, who put together the report, says the numbers are "disheartening."

The level of need has not diminished and despite best efforts, much of that need is not being met.

MacKenzie contends a more co-ordinated response is needed.

Otherwise, the emergency shelters and housing programs may both be doing great work, but if they aren't working together, there won't be any meaningful reduction in homelessness, he said.

"So I think we are now really turning our mind to bringing together not just non-profits who work in the homeless serving sector, but also public systems, like Horizon [Health], justice, even things like the education system, which all touch homelessness in some way but don't necessarily work together, to prevent or reduce homelessness."

By-name approach

The city took an encouraging step in that direction during the "homelessness crisis" in November 2018, when 34 men were turned away from the emergency shelter because no cots were available, said MacKenzie.

While Fredericton and Moncton, which saw similar spikes, responded by opening out-of-the-cold shelters, Saint John community partners got together and compiled a "by-name list" to prioritize people and connect them with rent supplements.

"So it was an example of the community working in a co-ordinated fashion to really support people in housing them rather than building another temporary shelter," he said.

It's moving away from seeing people as kind of anonymous numbers to actually knowing them by name, knowing the context of their homelessness and being able to prioritize them.- Michael MacKenzie, Human Development Council

Although emergency shelters are a necessary component of the response to homelessness, they are not a solution and Saint John stakeholders want to be proactive, he stressed.

"I think the process that we've started with this by-name list will actually get us there because what we're doing now is tracking the inflow and the outflow of homelessness.

"So it's really a change in the mindset of how we address homelessness. It's moving away from seeing people as kind of anonymous numbers to actually knowing them by name, knowing the context of their homelessness and being able to prioritize them in a consistent way so that the people who need housing most are actually getting the housing."

45 people housed

A total of 45 people were housed through Housing Alternatives Inc.'s programs Housing First and Organized Departures in 2018, just two fewer than the previous year, the report shows.

Those programs target specific populations with complex needs.

Placements through some of the smaller non-profit programs and affordable housing placements through the provincial Department of Social Development are not reflected in the report.

Michael MacKenzie, at head of table, was part of a group working to get 17 homeless people into furnished and subsidized apartments earlier this year during a three-month blitz. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Housing Alternative's stability rates — the portion of clients who are able to retain their housing — continue to be high at 84 per cent after one year, demonstrating the overall efficacy of the programs, said MacKenzie.

According to best practices, about 75 to 80 per cent of moderate-acuity clients, those supported by Organized Departures, would be expected to be stable after one year and for high acuity clients, those supported through Housing First, the expectation would be 70 to 75 per cent, the report states.

Emergency shelter use jumps 17%

Still, there was a 17 per cent jump in the number of people who used an emergency shelter last year — 417 unique individuals, up from 356 in 2017.

The men's and women's shelters both recorded their highest numbers ever, according to the report. Outflow admitted 310 men, an 18 per cent increase from the previous year, while Coverdale admitted 107 women, a 15 per cent increase.

Combined, the emergency shelters had a 107 per cent bed occupancy rate.

And on average, shelter clients visited more often and stayed longer — an average of 28 nights, the report found.

But not everyone who is homeless uses a shelter, noted MacKenzie. So on March 15, 2018, Saint John took part in the second nationally co-ordinated Point-in-Time Count under the federal government's Homelessness Partnering Strategy. It provides a snapshot on homelessness over a 24-hour period.

The 'hidden homeless'

"So that gives us a little bit more information on people who are … [the] hidden homeless."

A total of 117 people were counted. Of those, 113 completed a survey.

Twenty-two per cent said they had moved to Saint John within the past year, which could indicate they're seeking out larger centres where more supports are available, said MacKenzie.

Their sleeping locations included:

  • 39 per cent at emergency shelters or domestic violence shelters.
  • 39 per cent at a transitional shelter or in housing.
  • 11 per cent in a hospital, jail, prison, or remand centre.
  • 9 per cent at someone else's place.
  • 2 per cent in a public space, such as a sidewalk, park or bus shelter.
  • 1 per cent at "other unsheltered location."

Nearly half of the respondents (48 per cent) were aged 25 to 49. Youth aged 16 to 24 represented the next largest group at 27 per cent, followed by the 50-to-64 age group (23 per cent) and those 65 and older, three per cent.

Fifty-four per cent were male, 44 per cent female and two per cent self-identified as transgender, two-spirit or genderqueer.

A quarter of respondents identified as Indigenous or of Indigenous ancestry and 48 per cent were in need of access to mental health counselling.

Challenges accessing affordable housing

The report also draws data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the provincial Department of Social Development, and Statistics Canada, such as average rents, vacancy rates and social assistance rates to "demonstrate how difficult it can be for people to actually access affordable housing," said McKenzie.

The number of people on the waiting list for affordable housing in Saint John was 1,796 in 2018, an increase of 228 over 2017.

The number of public housing units in the city decreased by four from the previous year to 1,155.

While Social Development has increased the number of rent supplements in the region year over year, it has not been enough to meet the needs, according to the study.

The lack of suitable housing options is compounded by a basic social assistance rate of $537, which has not been increased since 2010, a rising cost of rent, and decreasing vacancy rates, it states. 


With files from Information Morning Saint John


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