The lead researcher behind the study is Cheryl Forchuk, the assistant scientific director at Lawson.
“It’s not something for the general public,” said Forchuk of the forum. “It’s more for people who are familiar with the system.”
That distinction is to make people feel safer when sharing their thoughts, she said.
Algorithm estimates homelessness
The institute’s four-year Homelessness Counts study hopes to find a better way of understanding how many people are homeless in Canada.
Forchuk said the team has interviewed 400 homeless people from all provinces and territories, as well as people who provide services to them.
This is the final year of the study, and Forchuk and her team are returning to each of the 28 communities they visited a few years prior to discuss what they have learned so far, and what has changed since they last visited.
One change is the introduction of the NWT’s new homelessness strategy, named A Way Home, which sets a goal of “functional zero” homelessness in the territory.
That would mean each community in the NWT had the right services to help people deal with homelessness, “so that when homelessness occurs, it is rare, brief, and non-recurring.”
Forchuk said the discussion that took place in Yellowknife in 2021 focused on who is missing from the current numbers surrounding homelessness.
The traditional method of counting homeless people relies on shelter data, which can be misleading, especially in smaller communities where there are no such services.
In most of the places researchers visited, they would spend time in shelters and encampments to talk to the people living there, said Forchuk.
“Often people experiencing homelessness would take us on tours, showing us, for example, where do they stay if they can’t get into a shelter?” said Forchuk.
In order to get more accurate data, the team is also trying a new algorithm, which focuses on interactions between homeless people and the health system, as opposed to interactions with homelessness services.
Lawson has tried this approach with data from Ontario and plans to try it on national data, though the algorithm does have drawbacks – such as not including people who did not interact with the healthcare system in the past year.
Results so far suggest there may be a lot of homeless people missing from current counts.
“We may have three times the number of people experiencing homelessness compared to the current method of calculation,” said Forchuk, speaking in general terms rather than about Yellowknife specifically.
The latest estimate in Yellowknife put the number of people without homes at 312, based on a shelter count led by the municipality.
Housing NWT will attend
Beyond knowing how many people are homeless, it’s also important to know who, exactly,is homeless to address the issue, said Forchuk.
While Indigenous people are overrepresented in homeless populations across the country, she said, the figure rises to more than 80 percent of homeless people in more rural and northern areas, compared to 25 percent in urban centres.