Back in April, staff from the City of Kingston oversaw two distinct processes which were designed to provide a snap shot of the scope of the homelessness reality in the City of Kingston and in Frontenac County.
In Kingston, City staff worked with the United Way, who oversaw a one-night Point in Time (PiC) of homeless Kingstonians. They counted people in shelters and in locations where homeless people tend to sleep, using all the skills of the social service workers and others who work in the field, to come up with as much information about numbers of people and other details.
“Obviously,” said Ruth Noordegraaf, Manager-Housing and Childcare “you can’t go around Frontenac County in one night looking for homeless people, so we used a different method.
Over a two-week period from April 9-20, in collaboration with Southern Frontenac Community Services, Rural Frontenac Community Services, and Addiction and Mental Health Services KFL&A, local social service staff administered an enumeration survey during regular interactions with clients.
In the rural area, homeless individuals and households are more likely to be living with friends or family or in shelters which are not intended for long-term accommodation (e.g. recreational vehicles, hunt camps, cabins, etc.)
Surveys were done in 2013 and in 2016, using the definition of homelessness in the Canadian Observatory of Homelessness, “those whose accommodation is temporary or lacks security or tenure” which would typically include those “couch-surfing” with friends or family or other forms of housing that is unstable or inappropriate for long-term accommodation. The 2013 survey determined there were 54 homeless people in Frontenac County, and the number in 2016 was 30.
Although the 2018 number, 61, was higher, Noordegraaf does not look at the number comparisons as very useful in this case.
“The lower number in 2016 does not mean that it is necessarily on the increase, it could be because our process is getting better,” she said.
In fact, Noordegraaf thinks continuing improvement in surveying for homelessness in Frontenac County could mean that it will continue to be difficult to compare one era to another, but the value of the information that is gathered by the survey is significant nonetheless.
“Some of the detail in the report will feed into the review we are currently undertaking,” she said. The City of Kingston embarked on a ten year homelessness prevention strategy for the City of Kingston and the County of Frontenac five years ago, and is now involved in the 5 year review of that ten year plan,” she said.
The 61 people who self identified as homeless in 2018 represent 37 households. 15 are dependent children, 54% of the respondents are men, 46% are women, and 16% are youth between 16 and 24 years old. Just over half of the families, 51%, cited social assistance as their primary source of income. And 81% said that a lack of income is a barrier to securing permanent housing.
17 of the 37 homeless families in the survey (46%), identified themselves as First Nations of Indigenous descent. In the 2016 census, 5% of respondents in Frontenac County identified themselves as indigenous. However, as the release concerning the homelessness survey points out, “it is important to note that Indigenous individuals are usually under-represented in census counts.” Nonetheless, 46% is a high percentage.
Perhaps less surprising is the finding that 81% of the families identified the presence of a mental health issue in their family. 35% identified an addiction, 37% a physical disability and 43% a chronic or acute medical condition.
None of the respondents said they were immigrants or refugees, but almost 1/3 of the families said they had moved to Frontenac County within the last year.