Nelson to participate in cross-Canada homeless count

Working towards ending homelessness in Nelson, let alone Canada, can sound overwhelming.

Volunteers Kate Nott (left) and Phyllis Nash (right) are preparing for Nelson’s first homeless point-in-time count and survey. It’s part of a nationally co-ordinated survey to understand the extent and demographics of who is experiencing permanent and cyclical homelessness as well as unsafe or precarious housing situations in Nelson

Working towards ending homelessness in Nelson, let alone Canada, can sound overwhelming. Community organizations have guesstimated the number of homeless people in Nelson. Community opinions abound on whether the people in Nelson who are homeless or in precarious, unsafe housing situations really live here or are just passing through.

In April, Nelson will take part in a co-ordinated effort by communities across Canada from January to April 2016 to measure homelessness.

On April 12 and 13 the Nelson Committee on Homelessness, in partnership with dozens of non-profit and public services and community volunteers will conduct Nelson’s first ever point-in-time homeless count.

A point-in-time count is a voluntary survey conducted over a 24-hour period to gather information about the extent and nature of homelessness in Nelson.

“It involves more than simply counting people,” said Ann Harvey, Nelson’s count co-ordinator. “The methodology is designed to increase our understanding of the demographics of who is experiencing permanent and cyclical homelessness and those living in unsafe or provisional housing situations in Nelson, and what they identify as their service and housing needs.

Over 24 hours, trained volunteers will count and survey individuals who are staying in shelters and short-term housing and sleeping rough (without shelter). As well, “public systems” will be counted; places like regional detention centres, safe homes and hospitals will be asked to provide an “administrative count” on any Nelsonites staying there in that 24 hour time-frame who have no fixed address to return to.

The count will provide a snapshot of homelessness in Nelson. It will indicate the minimum number of people experiencing homelessness in our community. Other forms of homelessness, such as people couch surfing staying temporarily with friends or acquaintances will also be surveyed, with a focus on youth.

Voices of homeless people need to be heard

“It is an opportunity for people who are experiencing homelessness or who are in a precarious or unsafe housing situation to make their voice heard,” said Harvey. “We need to hear from them to better document and more clearly present the facts that there are real people with real needs and issues that have to be addressed.”

Harvey stressed the surveys are anonymous and voluntary.

“Findings from the surveys will shed a light on the housing and service needs specific to Nelson,” said Harvey.

“The survey will provide information to aid community organizations, funders and all levels of government to plan for the funding and service needs of homeless and at-risk persons,” added Nelson Committee onHomelessness co-chair and ANKORS executive director Cheryl Dowden. “If done in future years, it can also tell us how successful we have been in addressing homelessness.”

“As a service provider, it is important that we understand not just the extent of homelessness but who is experiencing homelessness. This point-in-time count will help our agency to plan effectively and improve our response to those in need,” said Jenny Robinson, executive director of Nelson CARES.

And the Nelson Committee on Homelessness has an appeal to Nelsonites. “For a homeless count to be successful,” said Harvey, “the support and cooperation of many people in many organizations will be required. So if, in your work, you encounter people who may be homeless and you are interested in participating in a count, or if you are just interested in learning more about homelessness or homeless counts, please join us to learn more.”

The Nelson point-in-time count co-ordinator can be reached at ncoh@nelsoncares.ca or 250-352-6011, ext. 119. A website with information on the count and how to volunteer is also being developed at nelsoncares.ca.

The survey results will be shared federally through a national database and analyzed locally to present a report back to the community with statistics and compiled information. A national report will also be forthcoming.

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