Point-in-time count identifies 139 homeless in Yellowknife, draws criticism

The results of a point-in-time homeless count in Yellowknife are in, but at least one critic says the city’s survey was a 'waste of time.'

'We’ve spent more time counting individuals than we have housing them and serving them,' says critic

The City of Yellowknife held a point-in-time homeless count in May 2015 to gather information about the population. It identified 139 homeless people in the city, but one organizer admits that number is just a fraction of the actual population. (CBC)

The results of a point-in-time homeless count in Yellowknife are in, but at least one critic says the city's survey was a "waste of time."

The Yellowknife Community Advisory Board on Homelessness identified 139 people in the city as homeless during the count last May. That's when the city invited homeless people to two catered events and asked them to fill out a questionnaire.

Linda Bussey, co-chair of the Yellowknife Community Advisory Board on Homelessness, says the count is a great indicator of the city's homeless. (CBC)
Linda Bussey, a city councillor and co-chair of the Community Advisory Board on Homelessness, acknowledges that 139 is not an accurate reflection of the city's homeless population.

"The number is small, it's very small. It's a fraction of our homeless population, but we have to start somewhere and this is where we started."

She says the group worked with shelters in the city during the count, and also looked at couchsurfers, and those at risk of becoming homeless.

"We didn't work in a silo," Bussey says.

The purpose was to get a snapshot of the homeless population to help better tailor services for them.

Less counting, more helping

One critic says the time could have been better spent. 

"We haven't done a homelessness count," says Lydia Bardak, executive director of the John Howard Society. "We've done a count of how many people attended a barbecue and filled out a survey." 

Lydia Bardak, executive director of the John Howard Society, says when she heard about the point-in-time count she thought, 'that's a waste of time.' (CBC)

Bardak opposed the homeless count from the start. She says the point-in-time method is not valid and unreliable.

She says the RCMP, Stanton Territorial Hospital, the North Slave Correctional Centre and various shelters already collect data on the number of people they serve and house each night.

"All of those numbers currently exist in the community," Bardak says. "An analysis of that data would've taken us much closer to the target, rather than counting the number of people who attend a barbecue.

"We've spent more time counting individuals than we have housing them and serving them."

'Great indicator'

Bussey admits point-in-time counts "are not perfect" but says they are a great indicator of the city's homeless.

"It told us about gender. It told us about age. We didn't reach out enough to youth homeless. It told us about where people are from, what can we do better," Bussey says.

She says future point-in-time counts might be held out in the bush, or from 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. She says the advisory board will need to decide on a standard method to measure from year to year in order to develop its "housing first" model.

The committee has made a commitment to house 20 people in the next three years.

"Point-in-time counts are done across the country, so there's validity there," Bussey says, adding that the results will not affect funding from the Federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy.

The community advisory committee planned to do another point-in-time count in April, however Bussey says they decided on Thursday to defer it. Their aim is to have a plan in place by March 24 to find a provider to manage the housing first project.

Point-in-time results

Of the 139 individuals identified as homeless, Bussey says the proportion of males — 48 per cent — is considerably less than other jurisdictions in Canada. Here are the results at a glance:

  • The average age of Yellowknife's homeless population is between 45 and 64;
  • Over 33 per cent of people surveyed were couchsurfing;
  • About 91 per cent identified as aboriginal;
  • Most survey participants had resided in Yellowknife for over 10 years;
  • 78 per cent of individuals said they had been homeless for 180 days or more.


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