Mass homelessness continues to be one of the greatest social challenges facing our country. On any given night 35,000 Canadians are homeless, and at least 235,000 will experience homelessness in a year (Gaetz et al, 2016). Saint John, like so many cities across the country, continues to grapple with the issue of housing instability and attempts to gain a better understanding of homelessness in our community. To this end, since 2009, the Human Development Council has released an annual report on homelessness. Often referred to as Homelessness Report Cards, these releases are produced in communities across the country as a way of tracking progress in combating homelessness. In this, Saint John's 2016 Progress Report on Homelessness, we take a closer look at the state of homelessness in our city. Despite the traditional "report card" format of these reports, the intention is not to assign grades or deem Saint John to pass or fail. Instead, we aim to continue a discussion on homelessness, informed by statistics and a deeper understanding of the community's response to this persistent and complex social issue.
This year's report highlights some troubling statistics: the number of individuals using Saint John's emergency shelters increased by more than 40%from 2015 to 2016; the average length of stay for individuals was up; and the shelters' occupancy rate increased by 20%. At the same time, the report shines a spotlight on some important local initiatives and profiles Saint John?s Plan to End Youth Homelessness, our community?s progress with ?Housing First?and the results of our first comprehensive Point-in-Time Count.
Obtaining an accurate count of homeless individuals remains a near impossible feat. Couch surfers, for example, are not reflected in most local or national statistics, and this report is no exception. This is not because couch surfers are not considered homeless, but because an effective tool for measuring hidden homelessness does not exist. Similarly, we do not know the number of individuals who are at risk of homelessness. This places significant limitations on our ability to paint a full picture of homelessness in Saint John. However, emergency shelter statistics, on which this report is largely based, provide some valuable insight. The numbers are stubborn and perhaps discouraging - but they don't tell the whole story. By providing some context, highlighting local promising practices, and acknowledging a long-term reinvestment in affordable housing by the current federal government, this report attempts to fill in some of the gaps. While we still cannot paint a full picture of homelessness, the report aims to make the picture at least a little clearer.