Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut February 14, 2014 - 3:14 pm

New survey hopes for a clearer picture of territory’s homeless

But GN "not in a position to count hidden homeless"

Volunteers stock the shelves at Iqaluit's Niqinik Nuatsivik food bank. That's one of the organizations the GN will visit for a new survey on homelessness in Nunavut. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
Volunteers stock the shelves at Iqaluit's Niqinik Nuatsivik food bank. That's one of the organizations the GN will visit for a new survey on homelessness in Nunavut. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

This week, staff from the Government of Nunavut’s department of family services will be busy visiting Iqaluit’s social services providers, in an attempt to find out who the city’s homeless are and where they are.

It’s part of the territory’s homelessness survey – the first attempt to count homeless people since the 2010 Nunavut Housing Needs Survey.

The 2010 count, prepared by Statistics Canada, estimated the territory’s homeless population at 1,200.

But while that 2010 count offers valuable data on Nunavut’s population, the goal of this latest survey is quite different, said Ed McKenna, director of the Nunavut Family Poverty Secretariat.

This latest survey, which focuses on the territory’s three major regional capitals – Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay – takes a more disciplined approached, he said.

“We think we’ll be able to get a clearer number,” McKenna said.

The methodology being used is closest to what is called “point-in-time,” which grabs a snapshot at a certain time period.

This week, a family services team has organized meetings with social service providers who offer services to people at risk of being homeless, like shelters and soup kitchens.

“We’re talking to organizations who are familiar with these people,” he said “It’s different from the south where you can find people on the street.”

McKenna acknowledges that not all people who use those services are necessarily homeless, but once the connection is made, “we’d approach them and then find out their story.”

During the visit to Rankin Inlet earlier this week, the team was asked to go on the local radio to talk about their survey, something McKenna said turned out to draw many phone calls and important information.

In the south, McKenna points out that many homeless people would be considered “absolutely homeless” because they have nowhere else to go.

“They can’t count hidden homeless,” McKenna said. “Similarly, we’re not in the position to count those people.”

That can include people who are doubling up in housing, couch surfing or sleeping in shifts, he said, noting there are many strategies people use to keep a roof over their heads in a region that faces a housing shortage.

“But our focus is on people that don’t even have that option,” he said.

The 2010 housing needs survey actually found that some 2,730 households opened their homes to let what the survey called “temporary residents” stay with them during the year preceding the survey.

The communities showing the highest proportion of “temporary residents” include Whale Cove, Resolute Bay and Pond Inlet.

But while that 2010 survey found an overall estimate of the territory’s homeless, this latest effort hopes to come up with a more accurate number of homeless Nunavummiut.

“Obviously, we’re not ignoring hidden homelessness, but we can’t pretend to come up with a number in doing a snapshot,” McKenna said.

“But this will give us a much better idea of people who are homeless and the circumstances that have lead them there.”

Nunavut’s Poverty Reduction Act — passed in the legislative assembly last year — requires the secretariat to monitor those types of trends and gather baseline data.

“For our purposes, we feel we need to start doing this research so we can see where we stand right now,” he said. “And hopefully we’ll be able to do this on an annual basis.”

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