Just under half of the County’s homeless population is in the shelter system

Housing lost due to COVID-19 factored into enumeration

There were 563 people counted as experiencing homelessness in a point-in-time count enumeration conducted across Simcoe County, Barrie and Orillia in November 2020. Of those experiencing homelessness, 47 per cent were in emergency shelter, while others were living unsheltered or at someone’s else’s place, and in motels and hospitals.

Co-ordinated by the David Busby Centre, a number of agencies and the County of Simcoe participated in the enumeration, which has been conducted every two years since 2016.

Jan Janssen, the County’s Director of Children and Community Services, said in 2018 both youth and Indigenous were overrepresented in the enumeration results compared to the general population.

Janssen said the figures presented to County Council this week are preliminary and her department will have to dive deeper into the numbers.

“It really helps us to look at where things are not quite working, and how we can build a stronger system and a more integrated system. That includes the appropriate referral processes, access to services and working with community partners in that piece to inform the kinds of recommendations we make to council,” said Janssen.

The pandemic has certainly exacerbated the homelessness system. Janssen said they have seen an increase in persons experiencing homelessness even though the numbers are lower than previous enumerations. Blame that, she said, on the COVID factor.

“In 2018 we were able to bring together a large volunteer team and we had in that respect a more robust enumeration process because there were more feet on the ground getting out and actually looking for folks and undertaking the survey,” explained Janssen. “Though there is less people counted this year, it doesn’t necessarily mean that less people are experiencing homelessness.”

The preliminary report said there were 563 people counted as experiencing homelessness on November 17, 2020, down from 697 counted in 2018.

Of those who suffered housing loss, 10 per cent attributed it to COVID-19.

The enumeration found that 67 per cent of people experiencing homelessness identified as having a mental health issue.

“We know in this area that addictions and particularly opioids, actually across the province, but looking at our local area, we know that it’s a serious issue,” said Janssen.

Interpersonal and family issues made up 63 per cent of the reasons for the most recent housing loss, and 64 per cent of those who responded to the enumeration said they were chronically homeless, while 61 per cent had an addiction issue – either tobacco, alcohol or opiates.

More than 30 per cent of people experiencing homelessness identified as Indigenous.

No surprise that Barrie, as the largest urban centre in Simcoe County, had the vast majority of people experiencing homelessness at 49 per cent, followed by 23 per cent in North Simcoe and 17 per cent in the Orillia area.

The County funds seven shelters including two Out of the Cold Programs. Many shelter residents were moved to hotels and motels due to the pandemic with funding support from all levels of government.

The province added more money on Wednesday with a $255 million announcement to help municipalities and Indigenous program partners respond to an increase in COVID-19 cases in some emergency shelters and help keep vulnerable people safe. The government said the new funding will protect homeless shelter staff and residents, and help prevent more people from becoming homeless.

Around $11 million has been earmarked for Simcoe County.

“On behalf of County Council, I would like to thank the Province for supporting our most vulnerable residents with this important funding commitment. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the County has stepped forward to address local issues, expanding our motel program, supporting shelters and assisting residents in need. Our approach has maximized resources, including the increased support and programs for the local shelter system and deployment of County Paramedics to provide vital health and safety checks in our shelters and emergency motel areas. These funds will help the County to continue to offer essential services and meet increasing needs across Simcoe County. Our staff will review the system requirements and make recommendations to County Council to best allocate these funds and ultimately generate the greatest impact in our region,” said George Cornell, Simcoe County Warden.