Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's homelessness problem, by the numbers

Findings of an April 11 count were released Friday, shining light on a chronic problem.

Some use jail as a way of getting emergency shelter, report finds

The survey found four people living on the street. Many others were in emergency shelters or couch surfing. (Curtis Rumbolt/CBC)

A survey of homelessness in St. John's says at least 165 people don't have stable housing, with many living in emergency shelters or couch surfing.

"This is just a snapshot of homelessness in our community," said Bruce Pearce, community development worker with End Homelessness St. John's.

The group took to the streets on April 11 as part of a nationwide effort to count and talk to all the homeless people they could find. The results were compiled in the report Everybody Counts 2018, released on Friday.

Over a 24-hour period, volunteers and staff surveyed people between the ages of 17 and 78 living in varying degrees of homelessness. 

They visited shelters, food banks, outreach programs, correctional institutions and searched the streets to get a snapshot in time of the problem.

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

Their survey found 98 people were staying in emergency shelters, 35 were couch surfing, 24 were in an institution, four were in transitional housing, and another four were living on the street. 

"We have a lot of folks who need help out there," said Pearce. "This is a recurring emergency. Sometimes it becomes invisible because it's an ongoing chronic situation."

Using jail as shelter

Project coordinator Pegah Memarpour said the count represents the minimum number of people experiencing homeless, because the nature of the point-in-time count means people will be missed.

"Women is a huge population that is not generally visibly homeless," Memarpour said.

"They'll be in and out with friends, they will be in and out with partners and you won't actually get to interact with them in the community organizations. So as a result, we don't see them so they are hidden and are really hard to capture."

Project coordinator Pegah Memarpour says women are often missed in the homelessness count because they aren't as likely to be on the street. (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

The homelessness count also found that 10 per cent of the people surveyed said they used incarceration to put a roof over their heads.

"It's not a surprise when you think of what the alternatives are," said Pearce. "Sleeping outdoors in our community or having nowhere to live and no support around you."