By Sarah LennoxAgainst a backdrop of major budget cuts, Toronto is seeking volunteers for its Street Needs Assessment of the homeless.
The city is currently recruiting volunteers to conduct the survey of the homeless community on the evening of Apr. 17. Positions can be outside where volunteers will walk for three to four hours or in shelters, according to Patricia Anderson, manager of shelter, support and housing administration.
In terms of who is living on the streets, Anderson told Humber News her team is careful about consistency across the city and uses a system from New York City.
The results of the survey are reported to the community development and recreation committee and then go before city council. Anderson said she’s seen a great deal of policy changes because of the survey’s results, including a Housing First approach.
Despite the results of the 2009 survey, there still was a 50 per cent cut to new affordable housing in the city’s latest budget.
Anderson said the city wasn’t to blame.
“The city invests money that is provided by the federal and provincial governments, so we can only invest the money that’s provided by the other orders of government and that reduction reflects the reduction at the federal and provincial levels,” she said.
Wendy Horton, executive director of Youth Without Shelter, said the number of people sent to other shelters varies, but her organization has had to turn away as many as 10 people a day.
She said she hasn’t seen a decrease in the number of youth using the shelter services since the Street Needs Assessment started in 2006. Instead, there’s been an increase in the number of people who use the shelter year round, not just in the colder months.
The 50 per cent cut to affordable housing doesn’t help said Horton.
“It’s huge because there is a lack of affordable housing in the city, so as long as there’s no affordable housing, it’s very hard to house the homeless,” she said. “It’s a huge impact.”
Despite the cuts to funding, Horton said she supports the street assessment plan.
‘A very hard thing to count’
It’s the best that can be done, but I think there are a lot of hidden homeless that aren’t included in the assessment,” she said. “I think that it’s a very hard thing to count and [the survey] is the best we’ve got, I guess, but I don’t think it’s 100 per cent accurate at all.”
Raymond Lee, Light Patrol associate director, said many homeless people will be missed.
‘Homeless’ doesn’t necessarily mean someone is living on the streets or in shelters said Lee, whose Christian group does street outreach.
“There is a lot of couch surfing that’s going on,” he said. “Someone, a friend, has an apartment and the apartment really is for two people and you’ll find four people in that apartment.”
The survey may miss some of its targets, but Lee said it’s still a necessary tool for the city and the community.
“It’s well done,” he said. “I think it does put a perspective on what the needs are out there and causes people to think about the different demographics of homelessness. I feel those surveys are well needed and every agency should have [the results] on hand.”
Anyone over the age of 18 who would like to apply to volunteer to help with the survey can got to http://www.toronto.ca/housing/SNA2013.htm