Lambton looking for clearer picture of homeless population

Homeless man. (Photo courtesy of Downtown Mission)

The County of Lambton is trying to get a better handle on the number of people experiencing homelessness so that proper support can be offered.

This week, county officials are set up at locations including The Inn of the Good Shepherd, food banks, youth agencies, and shelters in hopes of getting an accurate count.

Lambton County Social Services General Manager Valerie Colasanti said that it can be a challenge because some people are hesitant or embarrassed to admit their situation.

“I think that’s why the numbers always appear to be a bit lower in Lambton county,” said Colasanti. “They appeared to be lower because people were couch surfing, staying with friends, maybe staying here or there for a couple of days. They didn’t want to say they were homeless, so we really had no idea. Even when people apply for social assistance or present at the hospital, they’ll often use the last address they had even if they’re no longer living there.”

Colasanti said individuals will be asked to voluntarily fill out a Vulnerability Index, which helps prioritize where they can get help.

“Some people might need assistance from the Canadian Mental Health Association because they’re dealing with mental health or addiction. Other folks might just need some assistance financially. Using this scale, we can help determine what agency they should be referred to.”

Colasanti said when the last count was done in 2018, there were 123 people locally who identified as living without a home. An additional 222 were observed as being homeless by community partners.

It’s anticipated, the number could rise this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.