Timing of homeless count may skew final results

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

7 comments

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Are people living in shelters considered just as homeless as those living on the street?

Hundreds of volunteers have been out on Vancouver’s streets and in back lanes over the last 24 hours conducting a count of the city's homeless population. Front and centre in the media scrum yesterday was Mayor Gregor Robertson, who kindly provided the media with his anecdotal assessment of what the results will look like. One has to ask why he's even bothering to wait for the official tally, when he seems to already know the outcome?

According to Robertson, he’s winning the battle to end homelessness because a few volunteers conducting the homeless survey told him they saw fewer people sleeping on the streets. He may well be right, but seeing fewer people on the streets doesn’t mean you’re ending homelessness. It just means the homeless have moved indoors – but they're still homeless. In fact, when Vision was in opposition, they regularly criticized what they called “quick fixes” such as pouring money into temporary housing, as it did nothing to solve homelessness. They also would cite study after study which claimed there were thousands of unaccounted homeless people who never show up on the books because they are simply "couch surfing".

In the past, poverty activists would regularly criticize previous centre-right NPA governments at the mere mention they were considering putting people into shelters. Now that Vancouver has a left-leaning government, most of those Vision-friendly critics have all but lost their voice. There is nary a peep about how keeping people in shelters and reducing the visible homeless population may actually work against their cause by easing the pressure on senior levels of government. The only exception to this is Wendy Pederson and her hard core crew of activists who seem to dislike whichever government is in power.

There are two aspects of the current homeless count that concern me. First, I find it curious the Mayor chose to conduct the survey just after the Olympics Games while funding for temporary shelters remains in place. Robertson knows full well that it would be much riskier (and likely more accurate) to conduct the survey after the funding for the HEAT shelters runs out at the end of next month. Of course funding for those shelters may continue past April, but at this point there is no firm commitment.

That said, if Robertson really wanted a true picture regarding how the City is managing the battle to eliminate homelessness, perhaps he could have waited a month or two to get the real numbers. Unfortunately, that information may not lend itself to making it into the 2011 campaign brochures.

Secondly, I am surprised that the homeless count only involves Vancouver while the rest of the region is not participating. In the past, the survey has been coordinated on a region-wide basis, in order to provide the best analysis possible as to how we’re doing on the homelessness front.

I have yet to obtain a clear response as to why Vancouver decided to forge ahead with their survey, as opposed to taking a more regional approach. This only helps to fuel speculation that Robertson is rushing ahead to ensure it's conducted for the most political benefit to him.

I do think shelters are part of the strategy of solving homelessness, but the Mayor must be careful as to how he positions the results. Too much crowing about how there are fewer “visible” homeless may well result in some folks pulling back on the throttle. His comments may also serve to dampen the public's interest in investing their tax dollars into more costly long-term solutions.

I trust the overall homeless count won't overly focus on "visible" versus "sheltered" homeless. I think this would be a big mistake. That's because at the end of the day, if you're sleeping on a mat in your local church basement, or on the street, you're still homeless.

In partnership with the previous NPA council, Minister Rich Coleman thankfully announced a significant number of measures to help address the long-term problem of homelessness in Vancouver. It’s hard to overlook all the single room occupancy hotels the Province purchased between 2006-2008 as well as the historic commitment to build 3,500 more units of social and supportive housing in Vancouver. This was a great first step in what Coleman has billed as a province-wide strategy to address the problem.

Although Robertson’s pre-occupation with short term solutions in the form of temporary shelters is laudable, it must be accompanied by a larger plan to secure additional investments in long-term solutions, not just the short term solutions that have happened under his watch. Otherwise, once we get people off the streets and into church basements, there may simply end up being no other place for them to go.

What do you think? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

- post by Daniel

7 Comments

Time for a fact check:

"Robertson said the count would include the 600 people staying in the city's emergency shelters, which close April 30."

http://www.theprovince.com/news/Vancouver+homeless+head+count/2719580/story.html

I didn't read the author say those living in shelters wouldn't be counted, merely that Robertson would be claiming "success" if the homeless are scooped up off the street and put into shelters. I think he's also pointing out the hypocrisy of the left for remaining silent as Gregor sweeps people off the streets during the Games, then lets them go back on the street after the homeless count is done. I think Daniel makes a good point about the timing. What is the rush? Why doesn't he just wait until all the funding is secured in May. This way we'll know how many people are on the street and how many people are in the shelters. This would give us a better picture of the true results of his actions. Another thing, what if Vancouver solved it's homeless problem by pushing it into Burnaby and other communities? Perhaps many of the homeless left Vancouver during the Olympics and their just starting to trickle back in now? How do we know his plan is actually working or whether the police did a good job of getting people out of Dodge? The only way you would know this information is if you survey regionally. A shame that is wasnn't.

If they count the homeless the same way they count bicycles in the bike lanes, we should end up with 437,000 homeless people in Vancouver. Perhaps they should just count the bees and divide by four for a representaive number of homeless.

From the article:

"According to Robertson, he’s winning the battle to end homelessness because a few volunteers conducting the homeless survey told him they saw fewer people sleeping on the streets. He may well be right, but seeing fewer people on the streets doesn’t mean you’re ending homelessness. It just means the homeless have moved indoors – but they're still homeless.

...

Robertson knows full well that it would be much riskier (and likely more accurate) to conduct the survey after the funding for the HEAT shelters runs out at the end of next month."

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The clear implication is that Robertson was attempting to hide the real number of homeless by cutting the people currently living in HEAT shelters out of the total. Since the people living in HEAT shelters will be counted, this is not true.

The whole homeless count and how they do it is a sham. Getting the advocates for homeless to count the number of homeless people is like having Brian Burke referee a Maple Leafs game. They have a vested interest in the result. If we are really serious about getting the real number, lets get an independant statistician to do a count without any notice. While they are at it - ask these people their name and where they come from so we can keep track of them in the future.

@VOR I respect your right to question aspects of my post, but at least ensure you are properly reflecting what I've written.

At no point did I say the people in shelters wouldn't be counted as homeless - those are your words, not mine. I simply indicated the final results of the homeless count may not accurately reflect whether people are "sheltered" or "visible" homeless...as funding for the temporary housing is coming to an end.

The Mayor was on the news yesterday and he made a point of telling the media how few people he saw on the street. My point is this reality could very well change after April 30th if the funding for the temporary shelters dries up.

Therefore, rather than rushing to do the count now, I am simply arguing they should have held off until May to ensure the actual # of street vs sheltered homeless is properly captured. I also think it should have been a regional count, versus having Vancouver go it alone.

You may wish to quibble over language, but I'm more concerned about making sure there is enough long-term housing available to meet the desperate need for it. A goal that I trust both the Mayor and I both share.

"Getting the advocates for homeless to count the number of homeless people is like having Brian Burke referee a Maple Leafs game." - Janet

You could not have put it any better. Too bad no one like you works in the MSM.

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