Homeless Needs Survey Research Report Issued

For Immediate Release: April 19, 2007

Victoria – The final research report of the Homeless Needs Survey, “Housing First – Plus Supports”, was released today by the Victoria Cool Aid Society, Community Council, Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe, and Saanich Councillor Judy Brownoff, representing the Capital Regional District.

The purpose of the Homeless Needs Survey (held February 5-9) was to gain a deeper understanding of what people who are homeless or unstably housed feel they need in order to find and maintain housing. Based on the survey of 815 homeless and unstably housed individuals in the Capital Region, from Sooke to Sidney and Salt Spring, the research report makes six basic recommendations:

  • Create a range of affordable housing options in the Capital Region.
  • Provide intensive community support for housing.
  • Provide a range of harm reduction and treatment services.
  • Provide income supports for people who are homeless or unstably housed.
  • Provide short-term solutions during the transition to affordable housing.
  • Engage the broader community in solutions.

“The survey provided a wealth of detailed information about what is needed by people in our community who are inadequately housed,” said Community Council Researcher Jane Worton. “It also dispelled some common myths about those who are homeless.”

  • Only 3% of the surveyed population do not want permanent housing.
  • 17% of homeless people have jobs, 32% are engaged in non-traditional work (e.g. “binning”), and 42% want help finding a job or a better job.
  • 78% identified the lack of affordable housing as their main barrier to being housed.
  • Homelessness is not imported: 73% are from the CRD and 16% from elsewhere in BC, mostly Duncan and Vancouver; only 11% are from elsewhere.
  • People are homeless throughout the region: 73% were from the four core municipalities, 4% from the Western Communities, 3% from the Saanich Peninsula, and 4% from Salt Spring; a further 16% did not disclose their municipality.

“All levels of government need to work together, alongside non-profit and private housing providers, to ensure that sufficient affordable housing, and appropriate supports, are available to those in need,” said Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe.

A CRD report released earlier this year showed that by following a housing-first policy, government could save over $9.5 million annually – $12,000 a year for each person who is homeless. Supported housing would also help marginalized citizens integrate better into the community and improve the quality of life for everyone in the region.

“Homelessness is devastating for the homeless and wasteful for society in the added costs it imposes on the health system, police, courts and corrections. It is also harmful to the safety and attractiveness of our communities,” said Saanich Councillor Judy Brownoff. “The Capital Regional District will play its part in helping eliminate homelessness by co-ordinating the efforts of all levels of government, business and the non-profit sector.”

41% of respondents said that having a community outreach worker would help them find and maintain housing. Many require low-barrier housing that emphasizes ease of entry and ongoing support services.

42% of participants would like help finding work. The needed supports they identified include many simple, low-cost supports and services that the community can easily provide:

  • Clothing, transportation (bus or other vehicle), trade tools and resumé assistance (75%).
  • A shower, phone, personal storage and alarm clock (67%).
  • Help to replace lost identification (56%).

Participants looking for work also asked for education and training (60%), accessible health and dental care, better physical and mental health care, and addiction or detox support and transition services (58%).

The top three factors cited by participants as contributing to their inadequate housing were alcohol or drug use (41%), medical problems (35%), and social or emotional challenges (27%). “We are recommending that a wide variety of primary health care and social services be located together in a single building in downtown Victoria,” said Kathy Stinson.

The enumeration numbers have been revised upwards from preliminary estimates after careful review of the data. The Homeless Needs Survey counted 1,242 persons throughout the Capital Region who were homeless or unstably housed. This is an under-reporting of the actual numbers of individuals and families who are inadequately housed.

The full research report is available on www.Coolaid.org in the Homeless Survey newsroom. The Government of Canada has contributed funding to this initiative.

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Information :     www.CoolAid.org    (search for Homeless Needs Survey)

Kathy Stinson , Executive Director, Cool Aid, (250) 383-1977

Don McTavish , Manager of Shelters, Cool Aid, (250) 383-1977

Jane Worton, Researcher, Community Council, (250) 383-6166

Mayor Alan Lowe, City of Victoria, (250) 361-0200

Saanich Councillor Judy Brownoff for the Capital Regional District, (250) 727-2008

 

The Executive Summary is below. The full research report “Housing First – Plus Supports” is also available as aWord or Adobe PDF document.


Housing First – Plus Supports

 

Executive Summary

“My story is no different than anybody else’s in this survey.
We are, always have been, and will always be able to love and be loved.”

 “Humans are our best resources. We should take care of them.”

 “We are all people and need to be treated as such.”

       – Survey participants

 

More than 1,242 of our neighbours in the Capital Region are homeless or nearly homeless. Above all, they need more than 1,242 housing units; affordable housing which is able to meet the many housing challenges they face. The homeless and nearly homeless also need more support workers to help them keep their new housing and to provide mental health and addictions care. And they need reliable and realistic income assistance, including help finding work.

  • Affordable housing is needed.
  • Health and housing support workers are needed.
  • Income supports need improvement.

Homelessness and Unstable Housing

The Homeless Needs Survey was a collaborative research project led by the Victoria Cool Aid Society. The question that this survey answers for the Capital Region is: “What housing and supports do people require when they are not housed or are in unstable housing?”

To answer this question an enumeration and a questionnaire survey were conducted from February 5 to 9, 2007, with over 60 social service providers and 220 volunteers participating throughout the Capital Region, from Sooke to Sidney and Salt Spring Island. Over 815 questionnaires were anonymously completed by citizens who were homeless or unstably housed and who felt able to share their personal information.

Homelessness was defined as, “being without a predictable, clean, safe residence to return to whenever one chooses.”

Unstable housing was defined as any of the following:

  • More than half of income is spent on rent.
  • An eviction notice has been issued, and no other housing is available.
  • Housing is overcrowded.
  • Housing does not meet basic health and safety standards.
  • Violence or abuse happens in the home.
  • The resident cannot stay in or return home whenever they choose.

The researchers believe that some subpopulations were under-represented in this survey. Such “undercounts” were more pronounced outside the four core municipalities, youth and children, Aboriginal people, people with mental health issues and families.

 

Survey Summary

The enumeration identified 1,242 persons throughout the Capital Region who were homeless or unstably housed – an undercount.

It is a common myth that many of the people who are homeless choose to be homeless. Our findings show that only a small percent (3%) of the population do not want permanent housing.

Homelessness is a regional problem that impacts more than downtown Victoria. Volunteer s surveyed 815 people and found that 73% were from the four core municipalities, 4% from the Western Communities, 3% from the Saanich Peninsula, and 4% from Salt Spring Island; 16% did not state a municipality.

Contrary to another common myth, homelessness is not imported into the Capital Region. It is a home-grown problem. Only 11% of those surveyed were from outside B.C., with 73% from the CRD, and 16% from elsewhere in B.C., mostly Duncan and Vancouver.

People who are homeless are of all ages. The youngest person interviewed was 14 years old and the oldest was 77. Two-thirds of participants (64%) identified themselves as male, 34% as female and 2% as transgendered or other.

While only 2.8% of the Victoria Census Metropolitan Area’s population are Aboriginal, one in four (25%) of those surveyed identified themselves as Aboriginal, First Nations, Métis, Inuit or Native. A disproportionate number of Aboriginal people are living without homes or are inadequately housed.

People reported that they cycle in and out of homelessness. Over half of the participants have been unstably housed for the last two years or longer, and 44% had been homeless more than twice in the last ten years.

 

Recommendations

More than anything, the Homeless Needs Survey shows that we need to provide more affordable housing options. The survey also points to the need for more health and housing supports, and the need to improve income supports for people who are homeless.

Six basic recommendations emerge:

  • Create a range of affordable housing options.
  • Provide intensive community support for housing.
  • Provide a range of harm reduction and treatment services.
  • Provide income supports for people who are homeless or unstably housed.
  • Provide short-term solutions during the transition to affordable housing.
  • Engage the broader community in solutions.

 

Create a range of affordable housing options.

Of those surveyed, 78% identified the lack of affordable housing as their main barrier to being housed. Our region needs many units of new and repurposed affordable housing, ranging from single rooms to family housing, and with both privately and publicly funded solutions contributing to the mix.

Diverse housing options are required to meet the variety of needs – especially low-barrier housing that emphasizes ease of entry and ongoing support services. Tenants need help to keep their housing. And many require housing that tolerates active addictions and mental health problems:

  • 48% of participants reported active alcohol or drug use.
  • 42% reported mental health issues.
  • 27% reported both alcohol or drug use and mental health issues.

All levels of government need to fund housing and related supports. A collaborative approach is needed, both vertical (all levels of government) and horizontal (across ministries), and including non-profit service providers and the broader community. Such a wide collaboration will ensure comprehensive housing solutions that include both bricks and mortar and adequate housing support services.

By following a housing-first policy, government could save at least $9.5 million taxpayer dollars annually in the Capital Region – $12,000 a year for each person who is homeless. A housing-first policy would improve the quality of life for all residents in the region and would help marginalized citizens better reintegrate into the community (source: Capital Regional District, 2007).

 

Provide intensive community support for housing.

In this survey, 41% of respondents said that having a community outreach worker would help them find and maintain housing. They said that they need advocates, assistance, supported housing, and easily accessed primary health care. A common thread throughout the questionnaires was the importance of community outreach workers to help people find, receive and maintain services, especially mental health and addictions services, as long as they are needed.

Community outreach workers should be in all involved agencies and should work together to ensure a continuous range of support, advocacy and referrals, including while a client’s housing situation is changing (such as after being evicted or released from hospital).

Workers linked in a community-based case management model would make some housing options more feasible (for example, subsidized market rentals). Supports should range from intensive support for mental health and addiction clients, to volunteers or peers who help tenants get to medical appointments and other important meetings. Community outreach workers could also reduce the significant number of incidents of discrimination that participants identified.

 

Provide a range of harm reduction and treatment services.

Health support workers are also needed. The top three factors cited by participants as contributing to their inadequate housing situation were alcohol or drug use (41%), medical problems (35%), and social or emotional challenges (27%). Participants looking for work also asked for education and training (60%), accessible health and dental care, better physical and mental health care, and addiction or detox support and transition services (58%).

Health is a critical component of the solution to the Capital Region’s housing challenge. We recommend that a wide variety of primary health care and social services be located together in a single building in downtown Victoria. The proposed ACCESS Health Centre will greatly improve the availability of addictions counselling, mental health services, and various other supports for the homeless and marginalized. It will help individuals and families stabilize and participate more fully in the wider society.

A community discussion was begun after this survey, involving both people who are homeless and many helping agencies; it is detailed at the end of this report. Their discussion developed more suggestions for ways our community can provide harm reduction and treatment services.

 

Provide income supports for people who are homeless or unstably housed.

People are homeless for a wide variety of reasons – everyone has a different story.

Many of them have jobs (17%), or are engaged in non-traditional work such as binning or squeegeeing (32%), and many more want help to find a job or a better job (42%). Many are unable to work due to physical or mental health challenges, including addictions.

In this survey, 65% of respondents reported receiving provincial government income assistance, including Employment and Income Assistance, Persons with Disability benefits and Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers benefits.

But many also often reported they had been denied income assistance benefits: 41% had been denied Employment and Income Assistance, and 29% had been denied benefits for Persons with Disability or Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers. Of those who had been denied, 80% were still not receiving income assistance and were not formally employed. Instead, they reported surviving by binning, panhandling, illegal activities, under-the-table jobs, sex work, squeegeeing, or with the help of family or friends.

Over two-fifths (42%) of participants want help finding work. The supports they said they need include many simple, low-cost supports and services that the community could easily provide: clothing, transportation, trade tools and resumé assistance; a shower, phone, personal storage and alarm clock; and help replacing lost identification.

The community discussion that followed this survey developed many other suggestions for ways government, businesses and social service agencies can give these people the employment support they need.

 

“I’ve been homeless for five years. At 17, I left home due to family systemic violent abuse.

I’m very willing to work, yet there are so many obstacles currently in my life.”

      – Survey participant

 

Provide short-term solutions during the transition to affordable housing.

Before this report was published, housing stakeholders and people without homes discussed the research project’s findings. They developed several possible short-term solutions that could make life easier for people while they are homeless or unstably housed.

Government and business offices could give these people better access to telephones. The municipalities and community centres could provide more free bathrooms and showers, and even community laundries. More winter night shelters need to be available. And research with homeless families could lead to providing them a proper emergency shelter.

 

Engage the broader community in solutions.

The post-survey community discussion also developed a few suggestions for ways in which individuals in our broader community can get more involved in solutions to homelessness. When teachers notice changes in children caused by housing stresses, for example, the school could offer extra supports to those families.

 

“Crime would likely be a lot less if there was more affordable housing. Drug problems would also be less. Without housing, people are on the street and lose heart and feel there is nothing they can do to change the situation, so go downhill mentally and physically.”

      – Survey participant