Homelessness enumeration shows substantial increase of those in need

File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / Kuzmaphoto.

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Lambton County has drastically increased over the last three years.

The Social Services Division conducted the 2021 Homelessness Enumeration during the week of June 21st.

Results of the enumeration, which used two separate surveys to compile data, showed that 236 individuals and families experienced homelessness. The recent findings show an increase of over 200 per cent from the 2018 enumeration.

Social Services General Manager Valerie Colasanti said the pandemic proved to be a large factor regarding the increase.

“When COVID-19 hit, I think a lot of people were experiencing hidden homelessness,” she said. “They may have been couch surfing, staying with family or friends and when COVID hit, they just couldn’t do that anymore so they were forced out onto the street.”

Another factor that may have contributed to the increase is the rising cost of living.

“The cost of housing has gone up, as everyone has noticed. The cost of everything has gone up so that certainly contributed to it, and the lack of housing,” said Colasanti. “There really is a shortage of affordable housing within the County of Lambton.”

The enumeration also showed that 66 per cent of respondents identified as having a mental health issue, and 61 per cent identified as male.

Colasanti said they were anticipating an overall increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness but were surprised with other aspects of the enumeration.

“What was a little bit surprising to us was the amount of time people had been homeless and that the number of people who identified as chronically homeless, meaning they had been homeless for more than six months within the last year. Those numbers were really alarming to us.”

The enumeration showed that 73 per cent of respondents identified as chronically homeless and 11 per cent had experienced homelessness three or more times in the last year.

Now that the enumeration results have been compiled, Colasanti said it’s easier to identify what’s needed, and at what capacity, in order to help people find housing.

“Because of some of the findings from the enumeration, we can build some of our programs around that. For example, we noticed that there were a number of individuals who were suffering from a mental health issue or from an addiction so we’ll try to work a little more with them,” said Colasanti. “There were others who had some other types of health issues and certainly we’ll be able to build our programs around some of these findings.”

Colsanti said this enumeration also acts as the “kick start” for the county’s Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS), used to identify individuals who are homeless.

“Before, we had a rough idea but now we actually have permission from these individuals to put them into this HIFIS system to be able to have some information on them, reach out and contact them, and work on placing them,” said Colasanti. “We can now work with those individuals to assist them with whatever program they might need that will help them become housed.”

It’s unknown when exactly another homeless enumeration will be conducted. However, with new tools such as HIFIS, Colasanti said another enumeration may not be needed.

“Ideally, anyone who enters the homeless system will be put in there so individuals could access it through the Inn of the Good Shepherd, they could access through the Women’s Interval Home, they’ll all be worked with throughout this system. We’ll have such a better way of working with individuals.”

Meantime, the Homelessness Prevention team has also worked with community partners over the past 18 months to support individuals in need. Those efforts resulted in over 1,000 people being supported through emergency housing, and 95 households being approved for a short term rent supplement, among other assistance instances.

The full Homelessness Enumeration Fall 2021 report and the County’s Housing and Homelessness Plan for 2020-2024, can be found by clicking here.