The Guelph-Wellington 2021 point-in-time count data was presented on Wednesday, with data showing the number of individuals on the surface experiencing housing insecurity has decreased since 2018.
The survey found 270 individuals are experiencing homelessness in Wellington County, including Guelph, accounting for 161 adults and 24 dependent children.
Housing Services staff were able to identify an additional 85 community members known to our homeless serving system that are experiencing homelessness not captured by the survey.
Compared to the 2018 results, 325 people comprising 291 individuals and 34 dependent children were counted, however, this did not include people staying in the shelter system who had not completed a survey.
Meaning the results can not be compatible with full transparency as the counting methods have slightly changed.
This year's results found 32 per cent of individuals are un-sheltered, 40 per cent using emergency shelters and 28 per cent of temporary shelters.
The majority of respondents were within the 40 to 64 year age grouping, with the lowest age group being over 65 years old.
When asked at what age the individuals began experiencing homelessness, the survey found 42 per cent of respondents said they were under 18 years old.
Kristen Cairney, program director at Wyndham House, said this year's numbers show a decrease in the overall number of youth experiencing homelessness is due to many factors that help prevent entry into a homelessness situation and finding housing solutions as a preventative factor.
“So, we’ve kind of moved from 93 young people in 2018 to only 20 young people in 2021, and we think that there are a few different factors,” said Cairney.
The need to figure out rent subsidies, mediate with landlords, help with income and understand the root causes of family conflicts are all preventative measures that can impact and reduce the number of youth experiencing homelessness.
“It’s heartened to see there were not a lot of un-sheltered youth in the community,” said Cairney. “It really reaffirmed our need to continue with our current trajectory around increases complex capable supports for young people.”
The survey found 23 per cent of respondents identified as Indigenous, with 57 per cent further identifying themselves as First Nations both with or without status.
The majority of Indigenous respondents fell into the 40 to 64 age range.
“When we’re supporting Indigenous folks and community we have to look at the effects of colonization,” said Charisse Sayer, integrated care manager at Southwest Aboriginal Health Access. “You know, the historical effects but also the ongoing effects, reviewing the need for holistic and trauma-informed approaches.”
When broken down by the living situation, 43 per cent said they are un-sheltered, 38 per cent said temporarily sheltered and 19 per cent said they used emergency shelters.
The point-in-time count was completed in October as part of a Canada–wide initiative to coordinate a national count of sheltered and un-sheltered individuals who are experiencing homelessness.
Generally conducted every two years, the 2020 count was deferred due to the complexities brought forward by COVID-19 and pushed into 2021.
The count took just under three days, involving about 70 volunteers who were trained to work with housing insecure individuals.
“In previous years the county was partnered with the poverty task force and others to plan and carry out the count,” said Judi Winkup, housing planning and policy analyst at the at County of Wellington.
“What we need is to create is that patchwork quilt,” said Helen Fishburn, chief executive officer at the Canadian Mental Health Association, Waterloo Wellington.
"We don’t have one unified system of care for people who struggle with homelessness because of the layers of that complexity, because of the way that we’re all funded, because the way the system is set up we have to make this work on the ground, and I always like to think of the work we do as a patchwork quilt.”
Lori Richer, housing stability manager for Wellington County's housing services division, said homelessness exists in our rural settings, but it does continue to remain largely hidden.
“Unlike homelessness in our urban settings, it really does call for us to look at different strategies on how we can, you know, end homelessness in those rural settings because there is such unique and diverse needs from that group,” said Richer.
Of the survey respondents, 12 per cent were living in the rural part of the county.
“I think a couple of key points would be that you know, the county had a higher number of indigenous people's, a higher number of youth identified as well as a number of individuals that were temporarily sheltered,” said Richer.
A much lower proportion of county respondents stayed in the emergency shelters over the past year compared to all survey respondents, as well as a much greater proportion of county respondents reported employment as an income source compared to all survey respondents.