County report identifies paths of homelessness, including addictions

How many people are experiencing homelessness in the region and, specifically, Barrie? Revisiting the Simcoe County Homeless Enumeration, released in April, provides some answers.
According to the report, 697 people were determined to be homeless, with 305, or 49 per cent of the total, being centred in Barrie. Midland had 138 of the total, while Orillia had 97. The rest were located in other county centres. 
The homeless population was determined using “observation, survey and agency utilization date,” according to the report, the first combined Homeless Point-in-Time Count and Registry Week, which brought together various community and funding partners, and was led by the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness.
“Simcoe County’s first combined Homeless Point-in-Time Count and Registry Week would not have been possible without the support of many dedicated community members,” states the report’s authors.
“Most importantly, we would like to thank the 488 (the number of unique homeless survey participants who provided consent for their information to be used) people experiencing homelessness in Simcoe County who participated in the enumeration – the information you shared about your experience informs planning and work to end homelessness across Simcoe County, Ontario and Canada.”
The top four reasons for being homeless were identified as addiction/substance abuse (21 per cent), inability to pay rent/mortgage (20 per cent), conflict with spouse/partner (16 per cent), and unsafe housing conditions (15 per cent).
Nearly 30 per cent of respondents indicated they were newly homeless. Of that number, 28 per cent said they had recently left a hospital or correctional facility, four per cent indicated they had aged out of/left foster care, and two per cent had left a First Nations Reserve. The largest percentage of survey participants who reported they exited an institution to homelessness were surveyed in Barrie, states the report.
“About one quarter (24 per cent) of survey participants indicated they had experienced living in foster care settings at some time in their past. Thirty percent of participants who had experienced living in foster care settings indicated their first experience of homelessness was before they exited foster care.”
The report pinpoints where those deemed homeless found shelter of some sort:

The top four reasons for being homeless were identified as addiction/substance abuse (21 per cent), inability to pay rent/mortgage (20 per cent), conflict with spouse/partner (16 per cent), and unsafe housing conditions (15 per cent).
  • Provincially accommodated (315 people): This means people “who are technically homeless and without permanent shelter,” with access to “accommodation that offers no prospect of permanence … they may be accessing temporary housing provided by the government or the non-profit sector, or may have independently made arrangements for short-term accommodation.”
  • Emergency sheltered (292 people): The report says this “refers to people who, because they cannot secure permanent housing, are accessing emergency shelter and system supports, generally provided at no cost or minimal cost to the user. Such accommodation represents an institutional response to homelessness provided by government, non-profit, faith-based organizations and/or volunteers.”
  • Unsheltered (82): “This includes people who lack housing and are not accessing emergency shelters or accommodation, except during extreme weather conditions. In most cases, people are staying in places that are not designed for or fit for human habitation,” the report says.

• A further eight people who were deemed to be in an unknown location were “likely homeless.”
The report reveals that the county’s rate of homelessness at the time of the survey was about 14 for every 10,000 residents. Males accounted for the largest share of homeless, at 61 per cent. Females were found to have “more complex and challenging housing supports” than men. About eight per cent of respondents identified as LGBTQ.
Additionally, 57 per cent met the national definition of chronic homelessness, 180 days of homelessness in the past year. Those aged 18-24 accounted for 16 per cent of survey respondents, the same number for those 65 and older. Mental health factored in the homeless equation, with 62 per cent of respondents indicating they dealt with such issues.
The federal government in June reaffirmed its commitment to reduce chronic homelessness in half by 2028, the report states. County agencies partnering with the federal government towards this goal provide “training for front-line homeless services workers to build community capacity to reduce homelessness, and fund “housing support and housing first workers to assist people, including Indigenous Peoples, who are experiencing chronic homelessness and housing instability, to find, secure and maintain permanent housing.” 
Recommendations for next steps include:

  • Introduce low-barrier, housing-focused shelter and transitional housing policy standards.
  • Build capacity and collaboration among emergency services providers to develop better pathways to stable housing.
  • Continue to build capacity and collaborations among emergency services providers to develop effective service response models and coordinated entry protocols that help ensure the right health, police and/or human service providers respond to emergency calls for assistance.
  • Increase primary care, mental health and addiction services and other supports for street involved populations including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer (LGBTQ), youth, physically or mental ill, and other very vulnerable populations.
  • Collaborate with other key sector partners such as health, children’s and community services, develop innovative and collaborative approaches to prevent homelessness by discharging people from institutions directly to housing with supports.
  • Reduce homelessness among Indigenous Peoples across Simcoe County.
  • Convene youth service providers to develop a youth specific, local approach to ending youth homelessness in Simcoe County.
  • Increase housing options for people experiencing homelessness.
  • Implement the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS) among Simcoe County homeless services providers.
  • Undertake a review of access to County of Simcoe housing programs to ensure that people who have experienced homelessness have equitable opportunities for housing.

To read the full report, click here.