By Rachel Campbell
Rachel is a Research and Policy Analyst at Calgary Homeless Foundation
The Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) successfully conducted its biennial Point-in-Time (PiT) Count (Count) on October 19, 2016. This second province-wide Count was conducted in concert with the 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness. Calgary’s final report includes data that was not included in the final provincial report but was promised in the 7 Cities joint release of preliminary Count reports. The provincial report only included data that was collected in perfect alignment with the other six cities. In Calgary’s final report, we included additional categories of data that have historically been included in the last several PiT counts, namely data on those in hospitals and other facilities operated by AHS, and data on unsheltered individuals who were unable or unwilling to complete a survey. This accounts for the difference between Calgary’s number included in the preliminary release and provincial report (3,222) (26% per capita decrease since 2008) and the total included in Calgary’s final report (3,430) (19% per capita decrease in homelessness since 2008).
Here are 10 things to know about Calgary’s Final Report:
- Compared with 2008, the number of individuals enumerated decreased from 3,601 to 3,430. That’s in spite of the fact that Calgary’s population has increased substantially over that same period. Thus, on a per capita basis, the population experiencing homelessness has decreased by 19% since 2008 (26% based on Provincially reported Count of 3,222). Had the previous trend continued, today’s number would be greater than 7,000. (Readers should note that it was in 2008 that Calgary developed Canada’s first Plan to End Homelessness. For more on this, read this previous blog post.) It should also be noted that the number cited in Calgary’s final report is different than Calgary’s number in the Provincial Report (3,222 individuals experiencing homelessness). This is because the Provincial Report does not include data from Alberta Health Services and from people unwilling or unable to complete a survey. Calgary is the only member of the 7 Cities collective to include Alberta Health Services data, as well as the count of individuals identified as visibly homeless but unwilling or unable to complete a survey, in their final report.
- The Count would not have been possible without dozens of community partners and volunteers. CHF works closely with Community Standards Services; Calgary Police Service; DOAP outreach teams; Canadian Pacific Railway; Calgary Parking Authority; Calgary Transit; Calgary Stampede security; Alberta Parks; campus securities for U of C, MRU, and SAIT; Alberta Health Services; the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General; and dozens of homeless-service-providing agencies for months prior to the Count to coordinate the collection of data from disparate areas and sectors of the city. On the night of the count, we rely on over 100 volunteers to canvass select areas of the city on foot (in the dark and cold).
- The same night we did the Count in Calgary, similar Counts were happening in Grande Prairie, Wood Buffalo, Edmonton, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, and Lethbridge. CHF coordinates with the 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness and uses similar methods including the same survey for data collection.
- Efforts are being made to co-ordinate future Counts nationally. In 2016, Alberta municipalities used most of the same questions and many similar methods as other cities across Canada. Strides toward coordinating nationally may take place in 2018 (for more on these efforts, see this link).
- The Count attempts to enumerate the number of Calgarians spending the night outdoors, as well as to collect demographic information from this group. This is not done in a comprehensive way at any other time.
- The Count attempts to enumerate the number of Calgarians spending the night in any homeless-serving shelter or short-term housing, regardless of funding source. This comprehensive data is not collected by any single organization at any other time.
- When it comes to source of income for persons experiencing homelessness, we discovered a large discrepancy between Calgary and the rest of the province. Indeed, 7% of Calgary survey respondents indicated “welfare/income assistance” as a source of income; yet, across the rest of the province, the figure was 29%. We are going to be investigating this further.
- We also discovered a large discrepancy between Calgary and the rest of the province in terms of the number of survey respondents who indicated “Employment” as a source of income. In Calgary, 33% of respondents indicated this source of income, compared to less than 10% across the rest of the province. This likely explains some of the discrepancy in uptake of welfare/income assistance described in point 7.
- We discovered a growing seniors population. The proportion of persons aged 45-64 saw an increase of almost 7%, while the proportion of persons aged 65 and over increased by nearly 16% between 2014 and 2016 Counts. This is not surprising in light of Canada’s aging population.
- While we may have counted 3,430 individuals on the night of October 19, homelessness affects many more Calgarians over the course of a year. While the PiT Count is critical for the reasons listed above, it’s important to recognize what it’s not: a complete and robust representation of homelessness in Calgary throughout the year. The PiT Count is merely a snapshot. Homelessness is a temporary state for most. For example, nearly 10,000[i] individuals stayed at least one night at one of the 3 major shelters for singles in Calgary in 2015 alone.
The author wishes to thank Nick Falvo, Ali Jadidzadeh, Louise Gallagher, Hilary Jenkins, and Kara Layher for invaluable assistance with this blog post. All errors lie with the author.
[i] Figure provided by Dr. Ali Jadidzadeh of CHF. Trendline used = polynomial order 2.