Nfld. & Labrador

Doing the math on the homeless problem in St. John's

End Homelessness St. John's is trying to get the numbers of all the homeless people in the city.

End Homelessness St. John's hoping to compare this year's tally to last year's numbers

The St. John's group wants to know how scenes like this at a city intersection reflect the number of people who are going without secure housing. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Volunteers with a St. John's organization will be in the streets this week trying to get an accurate count of a subset of the city's population who often go uncounted and unnoticed — the homeless.

"There are places around, not too far from here, where there are people with tarps in wooded areas and they're staying there overnight in the conditions we are having," said Shawn Skinner, chair of End Homelessness St. John's.

Over 100 volunteers set out Wednesday night to "hot spots" around the city to locate and count people living without shelter, and they'll continue their efforts on Thursday night.

About 100 volunteers work in teams, hitting the streets to get a count of how many people don't have shelter. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Skinner says the volunteers work with frontline organizations who know where people go when they haven't got any shelter.

They also visit people in hospitals, shelters and prisons.

"People, when they're discharged from public facilities like this, often times are discharged into homelessness," he said. "They don't have anywhere to go."

The goal is to get an accurate idea of the city's homeless population, he said, and also compare it to last year's count — the first point-in-time count done of the population by the organization — to see if things have improved or gotten worse.

Last year's report found that at least 166 people experienced homelessness in St. John's, including 38 youth between the ages 16-24.

Eliminating homelessness will require a lot of people working together, say organizers of the annual count. (Curtis Rumbolt/CBC)

According to the data, Indigenous people, those who identify as part of the LGBTQ community, and those who had involvement with Child Protection Services had a disproportionately high representation in those numbers.

Homelessness has many causes

There are a lot of reasons why people end up sleeping under a tarp in the woods, said Skinner, with poverty, family violence and drug addiction among them.

"Mental health, obviously, is a big part of it," he said. 

Mental health, obviously, is a big part of it.- Shawn Skinner

"Our job is to provide not just a place for them to live, but to provide supports that they can have to continue to allow them to remain in a stable housed environment."

Some of those people have chosen to sleep outside rather than go to a shelter, he said, "as hard as people may find that to understand."

"Our message, though, is that there are alternatives," he said. "And when they're ready … to seek those alternatives, we need to be ready be able to provide and support and help them."

Though Skinner said homelessness is a growing issue in the city, there is progress being made.

"And it's important that we keep the momentum going."