Saturday, March 05, 2005

Marching through March

Formerly Homeless Post #2

Funny, I started this blog with the idea that I could somehow chronicle my work and experiences with homeless people, but I realize that such blogs would be far too revealing for the general Internet population. I think I will broaden my approach, and give you some tidbits of information instead. The first thing I would like to talk about is "homeless counts." A good homeless count should be a starting place for the network of agencies hoping to make a dent in the suffering of shelterless Canadians.

But how do you count those who may not want to be counted? Certainly when I was on the street, I didn't want anybody to know where I was sleeping, because a good sleeping spot was hard to come by. In order to count ANY group of people accurately, you need to find them where they live. There are several methods for finding street people. You could just comb the city, pulling back branches in public parks and shining flashlights in dark alleys, but you will undermine your helpful intentions if you upset the folks out there. During the Victoria homeless count, an experienced street outreach worker compared this method with kicking open somebodys bedroom door with a flashlight and a clipboard in your hands... not very helpful! Optionally, you could just make an approximation of homeless people by counting how many use local resources like soup kitchens and shelters. This is a popular method, because it's cheap and quick. However, not all homeless use resources, and not all people who use resources are homeless.

This second method, like the first, does not factor in "couch surfers." Couch surfers are seldom counted, but I suspect they make up the largest homeless population in Canada. Any means used to assess homelessness MUST MUST MUST consider couch surfing! We could define a couch surfer as any person living at an address where they are not listed as a tenant. I suggest an anonymous survey, carried door to door to a random sample of the population. These couch surfers may include families who hit hard times, and are staying with relatives.

To be effective, a homeless count must be carefully planned, and the counters well trained. Our homeless count began with a series of interviews of key community figures. These were people working directly with homeless clients, such as street nurses and shelter workers. We also interviewed those from street population who were willing to spend some time with us. In these interviews, we asked two things: Where to look, and how to be respectful. Then we walked around those areas during daylight hours. We created routes for the counters to walk, and used computer mapping programs (ArcView) to make maps for the counters. We did some training sessions, and revamped our methodology as we received feedback. It was complicated, but we pulled it off...

I can answer more questions about Victoria's homeless count, if you take the time to email me. I hope Canadians can get to the point where we have a rough scope of the problem. Right now, we distribute random bits of resources, mostly around Christmas time, and hope for the best. Hence, we all miss the productivity of some of the most creative minds in the country. Invest in the homeless, understand the homeless, and you will find the soul of Canada...

1 comment:

Elaine Auyeung, B.Des said...

Hi Derek,

I am currently proposing a thesis/design solution for homelessness in Toronto for one of my classes, and I would like to interview you (ask a few questions) - as insight from a formerly homeless will assist me greatly with my ideas for this project. Is there an email address I can contact you at?