Homelessness is increasing in Lethbridge, and a contributing factor is the province's escalating opioid crisis, according to the latest homeless population count.
In Lethbridge, 223 individuals were counted as experiencing homeless: seven (3 per cent) were unsheltered, 136 (61 per cent) were emergency sheltered, 75 (34 per cent) were provisionally accommodated, and five (2 per cent) were unknown. In 2016, only 89 persons were included in the count. Method refinements, such as the inclusion of additional transitional housing units as well as provincial system data for health and correctional facilities compared to 2016 partially explain the increase in homelessness count in Lethbridge.
In Lethbridge, the most common reasons for loss of housing were drug and alcohol addictions (41 per cent), followed by job loss (15 per cent), inability to pay rent or mortgage (11 per cent), conflict with spouse/partner (13 per cent), and unsafe housing conditions (10 per cent).
This year marked the first nationally-coordinated Point-in-Time (PiT) count, using an updated, standardized methodology across Canada. For the first time, the count included data for health and correctional facilities and short-term supportive housing units, making comparison with previous years difficult.
"The new enhanced methodology in this year's count has provided us with a much more clear and accurate picture of homelessness than we've ever had before," says Martin Thomsen, Community Social Development Manager for the City of Lethbridge.
On April 11 and 12, 2018, the City of Lethbridge participated in the Government of Canada's second Homeless Partnership Strategy Coordinated Point-In-Time count, which provides a snapshot of homelessness across Canada. Alberta's 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness (7 Cities) coordinated the methodology of the Alberta count in order to better understand homelessness in the province. In addition to Lethbridge, the 7 Cities members include the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Grande Prairie, Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary and Medicine Hat.
Province-wide, 5,735 people were counted as experiencing homelessness in the Alberta 7 Cities, of which three per cent were unsheltered, 47 per cent were emergency sheltered, 49 per cent were provisionally accommodated and one per cent was unknown. In comparison, the total previous homeless counts were 5,373 in 2016 and 6,663 in 2014.
A total of 64 volunteers participated in the Lethbridge PiT count. In addition to a street count, volunteers visited local homeless shelters and emergency shelters as well as correctional institutions and facilities the provide transition housing for those who have previously been homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.
Based on those surveyed in Lethbridge, 59 per cent of those experiencing homelessness identified as male, and 35 per cent identified as female. Six percent identified as LGBYQ2+. Provincially, 72 per cent identified as male and 28 per cent identified as female.
The largest group experiencing homelessness in Lethbridge was adults of working age (25-44 years old) at 45 per cent, followed by middle-aged adults (45 to 64) at 27 per cent, young adults (18-24) at 14 per cent, children at nine per cent and seniors at five per cent. Lethbridge had higher percentages of young adults and working age adults than the provincial averages.
The majority of respondents have been homeless for a long period of time: 65 per cent were chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for at least 180 cumulative days over the past year (versus 62 per cent, provincially) and 10 per cent were episodically homeless, meaning they have been homeless three or more times in the past year (versus six per cent, provincially).
The Point in Time Homeless Count provides valuable information about individuals experiencing homelessness. It demonstrates that Lethbridge needs continued investments in housing to further support these individuals' housing needs.
Findings will inform the development of a Municipal Housing Strategy for Lethbridge. In late May this year, four members of City Council were appointed to a task force to develop a Municipal Housing Strategy by this fall that addresses the full spectrum of social and affordable housing needs in Lethbridge.
About Social Housing in Action
Social Housing in Action (SHIA) is an initiative of the City of Lethbridge funded by Alberta Human Services, Outreach & Support Services Initiative (OSSI) and The Government of Canada Homelessness Partnering Strategy. The City of Lethbridge works with community, organizations, partners and stakeholders to ensure homelessness is addressed, prevented and ended in Lethbridge. Using a Housing First Approach, SHIA offers rapid re-housing to people who find themselves in homeless or at-risk situations as well as consistent availability of client-focused, integrated housing and support systems.
Lethbridge's homelessness-serving system has provided supports to more than 900 individuals experiencing housing instability over the past year and housed approximately 213 individuals who were experiencing homelessness.
Martin Thomsen, Manager
Community & Social Development
City of Lethbridge