Homeless population in Halifax region more than doubles in four years, survey finds

·3 min read
The team behind the count said the number of new people accessing services is similar to the number of
The team behind the count said the number of new people accessing services is similar to the number of

Halifax's homeless population has more than doubled over the last four years, according to a new report, with nearly half of respondents experiencing homelessness for the first time in the last two years due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data from the Point-in-Time Count was released Tuesday, reporting that on April 7 this year, 586 individuals in the Halifax Regional Municipality were without a safe, permanent address, of which 357 were participants in the survey.

The counts are surveys conducted across Canada and provide a one-day snapshot of homelessness in different cities. The previous count in the Halifax area found that on the night of April 24, 2018, there were 220 homeless people recorded.

"There's so many people homeless way more than we've ever seen, and that's terrible," said Eric Jonsson, the lead of the survey, during a video presentation on Tuesday. "The property market is booming. Lots of people are benefiting from it. But I think we're leaving a larger and larger chunk of the population behind."

The team behind the count said the number of new people accessing services is similar to the number of "chronically homeless" people, with 41 per cent of respondents reporting they'd first experienced homelessness during the pandemic.

Robert Guertin/CBC
Robert Guertin/CBC

Charlene Gagnon, a data analyst who worked on the report, said the results reflect the highest number of homeless people the study has measured in the Halifax area since the surveys began in 2015.

About 65 per cent of respondents were male while 33 were female and two per cent were gender non-conforming. The data also found that marginalized people were over-represented in the homeless population with 22 per cent of respondents identifying as Indigenous compared to being four per cent of the population of the region.

Indigenous, Black Nova Scotians hardest hit

The report found the same overrepresentation in the Black and African Nova Scotian population, with 15 per cent of respondents identifying themselves in the group, though they make up only 3.8 per cent of the region's population.

"The numbers, [it's] not surprising that they've doubled," said Dalhousie University professor Jeff Karabanow. "COVID has had a major impact, the housing crisis in the city has had a major impact and the housing crisis in rural communities. So that's all kind of compounded some of the pieces"

When asked about the state of homelessness in the city on Tuesday, Housing Minister John Lohr pointed to some of the efforts his department has made to address the issue, including an upcoming supportive housing project located in a former hotel and funding to various community groups that supply housing.

The survey team offered immediate solutions to homelessness, including interventions in the housing market. Charlene Gagnon said the city needs to address price gouging by landlords and how short-term and vacation rentals are cutting into affordable housing.

Use empty shops, says professor

Karabanow, a professor at the university's school of social work, suggested empty retail spaces could be used as long-term solutions are in the works.

"We have a lot of businesses that are not returning to the workplace, so we have empty units in the city that I imagine could be flipped over into some form of kind of just intermediate housing until some of these other initiatives that we imagine will emerge in eight to 12 months"

Jonsson said only two per cent of respondents reported they were turned away from shelters because of their behaviour, suggesting shelters have removed some of the barriers that previously prevented some people from using them.

He also said more than 586 apartments are needed because of a vast "hidden homeless" problem. That includes people staying in violent relationships or couch surfing with friends.

Sheri Lecker, executive director of the Adsum House for Women and Children, echoed the sentiment.

"We're not talking about just 586 units of housing or 700 units of housing, but rather thousands. We need a plan for thousands of units across this province," she said.

The full report will be released in June.


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