Sudbury

Counting the hidden homeless population in Sudbury

Some researchers who study homelessness are uncovering a segment of the population they hadn't counted before, the hidden homeless. These are individuals who sleep on the couch or floor at homes belonging to family or friends. A Sudbury researcher says it's important to count them so communities can improve front-line social programs.

Carol Kauppi says 'couch surfers' now added to Sudbury's rate of homelessness

Some researchers who study homelessness are uncovering a segment of the population they hadn't counted before, a group known as the hidden homeless.

These are individuals who sleep on the couch, floor or in the basement at homes belonging to family or friends. They're more commonly known as couch surfers.

"It's important to count these individuals so communities can improve frontline programs and increase social housing," says Carol Kauppi, the director of the centre for research of social justice and policy at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario.

Counting 'couch surfers'

"We need better understanding of what constitutes homelessness, so that people who are struggling can reach out, obtain services and obtain supports," says Kauppi.

Many communities are underestimating their rate of homelessness, because they exclude this group she adds.

"Often they are hidden from the view of those doing research because they`re not in emergency shelters and they may not be accessing soup kitchens...or other services where they tend to be counted as homeless," says Kauppi.

According to Kauppi's findings from a 2015 study, Sudbury has about 400 people who live in absolute homelessness, with another 1,000 considered to be hidden homeless.

She will be publishing a report this April on hidden homeless across the province.

Kauppi's team of researchers also studied homelessness in four other northeastern Ontario communities, and found similar patterns.

The research looked at numbers in Timmins, Cochrane, Hearst and Moosonee, with Moosonee showing the highest rate of homelessness among the five places.

Kauppi says a lack of affordable housing in that community has led to overcrowding.

The research team witnessed this first hand as it went door to door to conduct surveys.

"Instances where there was a family living in every room of the house," Kauppi says, "So if it's a three bedroom home you have families living in each of the rooms, the bedrooms and the living room."

More social housing needed

Kauppi says more government investments are need in social housing all across the northeast region, as well as social programming.

She says researchers continue to uncover and better understand what gaps there within each community in terms of their social programming for the homeless. That's where improvements will be needed for front line services.

Kauppi uses the example of food banks. Most food banks only allow clients to access their services once a month, yet many need food more often than that.

She's like to see these rules loosened.

"Many who are receiving government benefits...often have to rely on soup kitchens and food banks because they don't get enough income to pay rent and buy food."

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