Homeless stats revealed
Author of study suggests finding of 733 homeless in Timmins is a conservative estimate
The new numbers of homeless people in Timmins are only slightly higher than the numbers previously revealed in studies carried out by the Laurentian University.
This doesn’t mean the problem has stabilized or is getting any better according to Dr. Carol Kauppi, the director of the Centre for Research in Social Justice and Policy at Laurentian University.
The information was part of the World Homeless Day forum for community feedback that was held in Timmins Wednesday.
Professor Kauppi is the same person who authored the first study in 2011 showing there were 720 known homeless individuals in Timmins, a number that was regarded as being unusually high.
In the newest numbers released in a preliminary report on Wednesday, for Timmins and the territorial District of Cochrane, the increase was not high.
“We did this study and found that the total number of people living with homeless is 1,782 (Cochrane District) and in Timmins, the number is 733. So a large proportion of those people are living right here in Timmins,” said Kauppi.
She added that the enumeration of homeless people included not only Timmins, but those in Hearst, Kapuskasing, Cochrane, Moosonee, Matheson and Iroquois Falls. She said the numbers released this week are only part of preliminary report and that a full report is to be released in November.
“The general finding is that the single biggest category of people living with homelessness, they’re living with hidden homelessness,” said Kauppi, who added that this was a common pattern in Northern Ontario towns and cities.
“It is not easy to do a study and get those people to come out, so we always know that the number we come up with up is going to be a conservative estimate. There are more people living with home- lessness. Still when we compare this number with other places in Canada we find it a high rate of homeless.”
Kauppi’s report also provided definitions of homeless as follows:
• Absolute homeless — No home of their own, emergency sheltered or sleeping outdoors;
• Hidden homeless — Concealed homeless, couch surfing with friends and relatives;
• At Risk — Elevated risk, low wages, unable to pay rent, might be subject to illness, violence and eviction;
• Chronic — Persons who have been continually homeless for six months or more;
• Episodic — Persons who frequently experience homelessness, such as three or more times in a year.
She added that for most people, their idea of homelessness might be seeing a person sleeping in a doorway or an alley.
“That’s the visible form of homeless, people living on the streets. They are certainly there in these communities. We found there are some people living with absolute homelessness in all the communities we studied.
“The people living with hidden homelessness are there too, but they’re invisible. The most common form of hidden homelessness is couch surfing,” said Kauppi.
She said this means people find friends and family members who are willing to let them sleep on a couch, in a basement or a garage for short periods of time.
“It is harder to get to those people but it is important to have initiatives to include them because they suffer from some of the most serious impacts of homelessness. Their diet is inadequate, they’re very stressed, very often they have mental health and physical health challenges.”
She also spoke about other issues identified with homeless such as mental health concerns and addictions.
Kauppi said she could not say for certain whether homelessness causes addiction and mental health problems, or whether it was the other way around.
“It is that chicken-and-egg question. What comes first? It is very hard to determine very often. But I have interviewed lots of people who say they lost their housing. Maybe they were evicted. They had a job loss. They became ill; had a serious mental health challenge, and become homeless.”
But she said when people are struggling and trying to cope with being homeless, substance abuse can happen but that is not always the case.
“Think of it this way. A lot of people have addictions and are housed. So it isn’t necessarily that every person who becomes addicted to substances will become homeless. Not at all.”
Kauppi said there is some progress, with places such as the Living Space in Timmins, but added it is not enough. She said more support is needed and that where you live makes a difference.
“Homelessness is a serious issue in Toronto, but there are a lot of resources there. The provincial government is located in Toronto, Queen’s Park. They see it. It’s visible. It’s top of mind for them. They invest in Toronto,” she remarked and added that housing costs play a role.
“So it is a question of the affordability of housing in my opinion as a reason why homeless has been on the rise in our communities and so I mentioned that the federal government has withdrawn from social housing in the last couple of decades.”
“We see that directly translated into higher rates of homelessness. And within Indigenous communities also, on reserves. Housing is inadequate. There are not enough places for people to live. So they leave and come to our towns and cities and are added to our homeless populations.”
KayLee Morissette, outgoing executive director and regional coordinator of Cochrane District Social Planning Council and cofounder of the Homeless Coalition Of Timmins, also commented at the forum.
She said she was not surprised by the numbers that were presented but she is surprised by the demographic breakdown.
“I am shocked and disappointed in the high proportion of Indigenous individuals experiencing homelessness in our communities. But that just goes to show that we need more community collaboration on solutions. We need to engage more voices as well,” she suggested.
Morissette added that the community needs to better understand just how widespread homeless is in Timmins.
“I think that people still don’t understand what homelessness is. Because they’re not seeing 700 people sleeping outside in alleyways and downtown, they don’t acknowledge that homelessness is an issue here,” she said.
“I think what we’re seeing is an increase in some panhandling activity downtown. That might be between five and eight individuals people are seeing. So they might acknowledge that there’s a dozen homeless people, but not the numbers we actually know exist.”
Morissette said homelessness is an issue that needs attention from all levels of government, including city hall.
“It is a community issue that constituents should be aware of and should be helping to implement solutions for,” she said.
It was one year ago, on Oct. 24, 2017, that city council approved a one-time grant of $200,000 to be spent on the renovations and operating costs of Living Space, an overnight warming centre for the homeless on Cedar Street North.
Still, said Morissette, community help is sorely needed.
“Social assistance rates fall a little short in helping to implement the solutions. So we know that people are using food banks, we know that people can’t pay rent. And social assistance doesn’t fully cover those human rights, and I would identify them as human rights. But certainly it is a problem of all levels of government and all community members,” she said.
Laurentian University professor Dr. Carol Kauppi revealed Wednesday that the numbers of homeless people in Timmins are still high, as many as 733 people identified, although Kauppi said that figure is conservatively low. Kauppi said one of the key issues in Northern Ontario is what she identified as the hidden homeless: people who are down and out, sometimes staying with friends or family, but not able to afford or maintain a place of their own.