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Yellowknife ‘needs more thorough’ homeless count

Full results of the first attempt at a detailed count of Yellowknife’s homeless population have been published.

The results suggest a minimum of 139 people in the city of 20,000 can be defined as homeless.

However, those involved in the count – which took place in May 2015 – believe that figure underestimates Yellowknife’s real homeless population by some distance.

In full: Yellowknife’s 2015 point-in-time homeless count report (pdf)

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“In 2008, the Homelessness Coalition did a report card and over 900 unique individuals accessed a shelter in one year,” the city’s homelessness coordinator, Dayle Hernblad, told Moose FM.

“That’s quite a difference from the 139 in this count.

“This report gives us a great amount of data and understanding but at the same time it is just the beginning.”

Homeless populations are often hard to estimate. There are no fixed addresses involved and studies of shelter occupancy rates miss individuals who did not use those facilities.

Instead, communities increasingly rely on point-in-time counts (explained here) which aim to find all members of a city’s homeless population on a given day.

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However, Yellowknife’s point-in-time count last year was slightly unusual.

“Generally, most communities’ point-in-time counts are more of a street count – where volunteers enumerate all the persons that they find on the street, with communities divided into a grid,” explained Hernblad.

“We did what was called a ‘magnet event’, trying to attract different persons to our event to try to enumerate them there.

“But we realized that magnet events are limited as to who we attract.”

In other words, the magnet events are less reliable as they require the homeless population to proactively attend, rather than seeking those people out.

“Our future counts will be certainly more thorough and in-depth,” added Hernblad.

“This has probably underestimated the number of homeless persons in our community, through a lot of the hidden homeless and persons we didn’t enumerate.”

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Plans for future counts involve a much closer relationship with the city’s shelters, including comprehensive surveys for occupants.

May 2015: Yellowknife homelessness ‘worse than Toronto’ – but can be fixed

This week’s report on the first count admits the total of 139 people interviewed “only represents a fraction” of the true picture.

Hernblad says the results of this study will still form a useful baseline for future counts, particularly with the City of Yellowknife moving to a Housing First model – in which authorities work to secure safe, permanent housing for vulnerable people as a priority.

Discussions continue regarding when the next count should take place. It’s likely to be either this year or next.

The data gathered from the 2015 count shows that a full third of respondents were couch-surfing at the time. Seventeen percent of all respondents were aged 24 or under, with 40 percent aged 45 to 64.

At least half of those surveyed had moved to Yellowknife from another community. On average, respondents had been homeless for almost six years.

Only five percent said they had no interest in finding a permanent home.

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