Nfld. & Labrador

'Sobering' findings in first-ever count of homeless population in St. John's

Everyone Counts: St. John's Homeless Point-in-Time Count 2016 is a snapshot of those who experienced homelessness on a single day in the city.

'It's a very significant issue ... and something that we need to turn around'

A new report aims to find out more about who in St. John's identifies as homeless and come up with a strategy to get people off the streets. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

End Homelessness St. John's has released its first count of the homeless population with findings that it calls "sobering."

"It is alarming that nearly three out of five respondents first became homeless before age 24 years, and two out of five respondents experienced six or more months of homelessness over the past year," the report reads.

"The high representation of Indigenous people, of those who identify as part of the LGBT2Q community, and of those who had involvement with Child Protection Services are of great concern," the report reads.

Everyone Counts: St. John's Homeless Point-in-Time Count 2016 is a snapshot of those who experienced homelessness on a single day — in addition to focused outreach that happened during that week, in order to gather information about that population.

First count

On Nov. 30, 2016, more than 100 volunteers and front-line staff conducted the first biennial count. They found that:

  • At least 166 people experienced homelessness in St. John's, including 38 youth between the ages 16-24.
  • 84 of those people were staying in emergency shelters, or were unsheltered.
  • 82 were provisionally accommodated, meaning they were in transitional housing, stayed with someone else, or were in an institutional setting.

Bruce Pearce with End Homelessness said this number is just the tip of the iceberg. The group estimates about 800 people experience homelessness in the course of a year.

Bruce Pearce, with End Homelessness St. John's, says the number of people on the streets in the city is a 'very significant issue.' (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"In a city of our size, that's a very significant issue," he said. 

"On one night, 166 people being homeless is a tragedy and something that we need to turn around. If you had 166 car accidents on a single night, that would be headline news."

The survey found that most respondents first became homeless around the age of 19. However, the majority of those who first became homeless at the age of 45 or older said it was due to job loss.

Who is homeless?

About half of those involved in the count also participated in a survey.

According to the report, they ranged in age from 16 to 76 years old, and came from "all walks of life."

It is the first, but it won't be the last. End Homelessness St. John's says it will do another count in 2018 in order to measure progress when it comes to getting people off the street. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The survey found that almost 40 per cent of respondents had moved to St. John's within the past five years: half had come from other parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, while the rest were from other parts of Canada.

Almost all of the respondents said they would like permanent housing, but most said they faced barriers, like low or no income, rent being too high, or issues with mental health or addictions.

The report states that most homeless people in the city say they need support services — including social workers, housing officers, lawyers, and trauma specialists —  to address the challenges they face.

Child Protection Services

According to the report, 47 per cent of respondents said they had received Child Protection Services while either remaining in the family home, living with another family, or while in foster care or a group home.

That number jumps to 70 per cent, when only those between the ages of 16 to 24 are considered.

Krista Gladney, project coordinator of the survey, is sounding the alarm about the number of homeless people who had previously been in foster care or a group home. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Krista Gladney, the project coordinator for the survey, said those statistics may shock the general public.

"Fifty per cent of respondents who had been in foster care or a group home became homeless less than a year after leaving," she said.

"So that definitely shows there are some issues that need to be addressed."

More than 60 per cent of those surveyed said they did not feel as though Child Protection Services was helpful in their transition to independence.

Plan to end homelessness

End Homelessness St. John's, a community-led board that brings together different sectors, said it hopes to follow in the footsteps of Medicine Hat, Alta, where officials maintain they have eliminated chronic homelessness.

"That's our goal for St. John's in 2019, to be the first Atlantic Canadian community to reach that goal," said Pearce.

"We still have a long way to go to prevent homelessness and rehouse people who would be more transitionally homeless or at risk of homelessness."

A new report aims to find out more about who in St. John's identifies as homeless and come up with a strategy to get people off the streets. (Roman Bodnarchuk/Shutterstock )

According to the report, the plan is to "reduce average shelter stays to seven days or less by 2019, with the ultimate goal of ensuring no one in our city will live on the streets or in emergency shelter for longer than seven days before having access to the supports they need."

The group will also rehouse and support more than 500 homeless people and develop a coordinated homeless-serving system.

End Homelessness St. John's will do its next count in 2018, and share its findings as part of a national survey on homelessness. It will also help the group measure its progress.

About the Author

Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a journalist with CBC News in St. John's.