Before the cold weather and short days arrive, Regina is planning to find out how many homeless people there are in the city, in an attempt to help inform its housing policy.
The Point-in-Time (PiT) count is part of a national initiative carried out every two to three years. Regina's count will take place Sept. 22 and volunteers are needed to help with it.
Addison Docherty, the project coordinator for the PiT count, said the survey provides important information on homelessness in the Queen City. Doherty, who is also the executive director of Flow Community Projects, a social enterprise organization, said they're looking for 125 volunteers to walk through the city and ask people about their housing situation on from 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.
"Point-in-time counts have historically been our main tool used to reference our homeless numbers," said Docherty. "We had our first one in 2015, and I think for many people that was a little bit of a wake-up call."
In 2015, the PiT count found 232 people in the city who were experiencing some form of homelessness. That rose to 286 in 2018, the most recent count. Nationally, nearly 20,000 people responded to the survey and said they were experiencing homelessness that year.
In Regina, the vast majority of respondents were spending the night in a shelter or transitional housing or were "hidden homeless" — couch-surfing with relatives, friends or neighbours because they have no other option.
"Homelessness doesn't look the same in every city," explained Docherty. "We don't have a ton of people sleeping on the street due to our weather."
However, with limited shelter spaces — particularly for women and families — in Regina, Docherty said people are forced to rely on other services that were not designed to provide shelter or housing support.
"What ends up happening is people utilize public systems," he said. "They go to the emergency room and they go to detox or they go to corrections or things like that.
"So there are some places where people stay, but in terms of the mainstream places, they are limited. And that's a growing concern for those of us in the sector."
In order to carry out the survey, volunteers will walk specific areas of the city in teams of two or three and offer anyone they see the opportunity to answer the housing survey.
Joseph Miller, executive director of the city's Souls Harbour Rescue Mission, which offers services to vulnerable people and runs a 24 bed overnight emergency shelter for men in need, said his organization will provide data to the PiT count this year.
But he's worried that homeless people's need for "money and opportunity" can get lost in the mechanics of the survey.
"There has been a lot of money spent into studying homelessness, in doing PiT counts," Miller said. "The reality is, what we need is more resources to go to the people. There's a lot of government money that gets chewed up in the bureaucracy [and] sometimes, it's hard not to think the machine feeds the machine [and] we've kind of forgotten the people."
It's important that everyone understands that people experiencing homelessness are more than just numbers on a page, he said.
"They're faces, they're names, they're people," Miller said. "They're someone's daughter or son, or they have children of their own."