Federally-run homeless count facing data gaps as big cities opt out of project

Some of Canada's biggest cities have chosen to opt out of a federally run count of homeless people, resulting in what some experts predict will be an incomplete picture of the national poverty problem.

OTTAWA — Some of Canada’s biggest cities have chosen to opt out of a federally run count of homeless people, resulting in what some experts predict will be an incomplete picture of the national poverty problem.

The decision by places like Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, among others, to not join in the federal initiative could make it more difficult for the federal Liberals to create a promised anti-poverty strategy.

The government was negotiating an agreement with Quebec to have cities in that province take part in the count, but for now the national effort won’t reach into Quebec.

Many cities have never done a 24-hour homeless survey, known as a point-in-time count, which is why the federal government decided last year to try and co-ordinate a national census of those using shelters and living on the street.

Those cities that do a count use different methodologies, making it sometimes difficult to compare results on a national scale.

The previous Conservative government was warned seven months ago about potential shortcomings in data from the point-in-time count after a meeting with 49 municipalities when the details of the initiative were first unveiled. During that meeting, cities initially voiced concerns about the plan to do the count in late January — a time frame the government expanded to run now until the end of April.

A May 2015 briefing note from Conservative MP Candice Bergen, who was minister of state for social development at the time, says the decision by some cities to do their own count would “limit the ability to generate meaningful results” from the national survey.

Getting 30 communities on board with the count will at least give some like York Region, which has never done a point-in-time count before, a baseline to work from and track progress over time, said Pedro Barata, vice-president of communications and public affairs with the United Way of Toronto and York Region.

As long as the questions and methodology aren’t wildly different, there may be ways to compare results on a national scale, Barata said.

The point-in-time count is only a snapshot in time of those in shelters and those living on the street and won’t capture anyone who has found temporary lodging, for example, or those who spend half their income or more on housing.

Darlene O’Leary, socioeconomic policy analyst with Citizens for Public Justice, said missing some of the country’s biggest cities will mean the federal government isn’t getting a full picture.

Toronto won’t be taking part in the count because it is planning a locally organized count next year. The head of the Alberta agency that oversees counts in seven cities in that province told the CBC they opted out of the federal count over concerns about the quality of data.

Metro Vancouver, which includes 21 communities, will do its next detailed point-in-time count in 2017. The City of Vancouver is doing an smaller count this year in March, which is why it originally decided against joining the federal count, said Celine Malboules, senior planner in the city’s housing policy and projects department.

“For us, it’s about comparative data. So over the years if we all of a sudden switch the date to January that’s going to have an impact,” she said.

Malboules said city officials are going to see if they can piggyback on the federally run project and “feed into the national results.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19: First death confirmed in central zone, provincial cases reach 1,250

Alberta government confirmed a first death in the central zone Sunday. The… Continue reading

COVID-19 case reported at supermarket in Wetaskiwin

Sobeys will not release names to protect employees

WATCH: Red Deer emergency call centre hours change starting next week

Hours at the City of Red Deer’s COVID-19 emergency call centre will… Continue reading

Alberta Health Services provides COVID-19 prevention tips

Alberta Health Services has a number of recommendations for people amid the… Continue reading

Alberta government website has latest COVID-19 statistics

Red Deer Advocate readers can stay up to date on the COVID-19… Continue reading

Quebec Walmart worker struck by driver allegedly angered by COVID-19 measures

SHERBROOKE, Que. — A Walmart security guard from southern Quebec was fighting… Continue reading

Boeing to continue production shutdown due to coronavirus

Company is extending its planned two-week shutdown

Bars, cannabis sector eligible for $40B credit program from government bank

Applicants must go through their own banks to access the program

Actress-activist Shirley Douglas, daughter of medicare’s Tommy Douglas, dies

‘Sadly she had been battling for her health for quite some time’

Canada looking to disinfect used masks, Tam asks they not be thrown away

Best defence against COVID-19 is to stay home as much as possible, wash their hands frequently

With workers at home, feds eye ways to fast-track training program, groups say

How to help workers stuck at home or out of work to prevent their skills from becoming

Most Read