City agencies preparing for homeless count

Prince George agencies serving marginalized populations are busy preparing the city's upcoming homelessness count.

It's been six years since Prince George did the last point-in-time survey and this will be the first time the city takes part in a national effort.

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"I think it's very useful in determine of the characteristics and makeup of the population that is on the street, chronic or episodic homeless as well as those in poverty," said Kerry Pateman, count coordinator who works with Community Partners Addressing Homelessness (CPAH).

"We're not going to get the complete picture but we definitely feel that we're going to be able get some demographics or characteristics."

It's important to know, for example, if it's an aging population or if there are more young people facing those barriers, she said. The survey will track who stays in shelters, outdoors or other non-residential locales as well as other characteristics, like whether they are veterans, have aboriginal ancestry, or were ever in provincial care.

The count committee held its first training session Wednesday night for volunteers. About 30 to 40 of them will hit the streets on April 18 and 19, and that's not including all the organizations and workers taking part too.

The committee has been working to prepare those volunteers and agencies, finalize questions, plan routes and make up packages for the participants.

The headquarters on the day of the event will be at the Advocacy For Women And Children (AWAC) activity centre.

Prince George is one of 30 communities to participate in the first national initiative, announced by the federal government earlier this year.

Currently the government relies on the best estimates from the National Shelter Study, which is based on emergency shelter use statistics, the guide said. Participating communities have to complete their local surveys by the end of April.

Prince George has conducted two previous counts - in 2008 and 2010 - and for the most part it isn't difficult to getting the desired population to participate.

"People don't mind talking about their story and their situation," Pateman said. "So often our homeless individuals in the street, nobody ever looks at them or talks to them. The fact that we are listening and we do want to hear their situation. I think for the most part we've had a positive response."

There will be some standardized questions from the government and new ones as well.

"We are probing a little more into why somebody (is) homeless," she said.

"We haven't asked that."

The City of Prince George has also adopted a housing-first policy, with city council recently approving a bylaw that provides incentives for multi-family housing construction.

Sarah Brown, as the city's social development coordinator, sits on the CPAH committee and it too has a voice through Pateman on the city's select committee on homelessness and affordable housing.

That conversation and collaboration between groups is key, she said.

"Really it's around alignment and making the sure that the city can support the initiatives and activities that CPAH's moving forward around addressing homelessness and vice versa. It's that collaborative aligning approach to working together in the community to address the issue."

Most of the work was done at the subcommittee level, reviewing questions and adding as necessary, but the city also offered maps to support the work too.

"Whenever we can gather this kind of information about our municipality and the community we live in, it's helpful in terms of planning but it's also helpful in terms of measuring how we're doing."

But Wayne Hughes, with John Howard Society, cautioned against taking the numbers too literally.

"It's a good idea to know what the numbers are but Prince George, it's such a transient population," said Hughes, executive director of JHS, which will be involved in the count.

"I think if we're just taking one picture in one day, we can read a little too much into it. It doesn't give us a clear picture of what the homeless situation."

He said he'll be interested to see if the numbers change from previous years, with a hopeful wish that they've gone down.

"A lot of organizations in this community that have been helping and addressing homelessness. It would be nice if the numbers reflect that effort."

There is still a need for a few additional volunteers for outdoor surveying, who will mainly walk in the downtown in teams of two as well as some nearby parks. If interested, contact cpahcount2106@gmail.com.

-- with files from Charelle Evelyn

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