Volunteers are on the streets, counting Windsor's homeless population

Volunteers from the Homeless Coalition of Windsor-Essex County and the City of Windsor are teaming up to meet Windsor's homeless population one-by-one. The groups is handing out surveys, part of a provincial program to count the number of people who are homeless.

Surveys will match homeless people with services and programs

Volunteers are going on foot to find out how bad homelessness is in Windsor-Essex County. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Volunteers from the Homeless Coalition of Windsor-Essex County and the City of Windsor are teaming up to meet Windsor's homeless population one-by-one.

The group is handing out surveys which are part of a province-wide program to count the number of people who are homeless. Participants are asked to answer a series of assessment questions and are matched with appropriate services and programs.

Kelly Goz, coordinator for the city's housing administration and development services, said homelessness is not just limited to people living on the street.

Kelly Goz said that each clipboard represents a different area of the Windsor-Essex community. Groups of volunteers are speaking with anyone who identifies as homeless. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"They're looking to determine if anyone is dealing with any form of homelessness. It doesn't need to be street homelessness, but maybe staying temporarily with family and friends, we consider those people homeless as well," she said.

Keeping the community accountable

The city identified 201 people living on the streets in 2016 during a 24-hour street survey conducted at that time. Goz anticipates numbers to be higher this year​.

"They are a person. They have a story," said Goz.

Angela Yakonich found that Windsor's homeless community has been more open to tell their stories 0:31

She added that publicizing statistics on homelessness increases accountability for people in Windsor-Essex County.

"It is very easy to walk past someone who is sitting on the sidewalk asking for change or money to buy a coffee, or something to eat. When you start to engage and humanize what you're seeing on a daily basis ... it helps us be accountable and to say that is a person, that is somebody's child, we have a shared responsibility."

Conducting the survey

Angela Yakonich of the Homeless Coalition has been leading groups of volunteers across the city over a 24-hour period.

"What caused you to lose your housing most recently?" Yakonich asked one woman, dawning a thick, black coat and no hat on a cold Tuesday.

"I couldn't pay the rent. I tried to give the money and I did come up with some. But I told to her wait until the end [of the month]. And then they kicked me out right on April 3," the woman replied.

Yakonich said participants have been extremely forthcoming, voluntarily revealing details about their personal life.

"They want to tell us why they're homeless and what made them come to Windsor, why they're choosing not to stay in a shelter, why they're choosing to sleep outside," she explained.

She added that more citizens are helping with the survey than in the past — a sign that the Windsor-Essex community is increasingly committed to helping the homeless population. 

"Typically, they're at a 30 per cent rate of no shows in Windsor. [This year], I've only had 10 people out of 240 contact me and say they can't come," she said. 

with files from the CBC's Chris Ensing