A partnership that counts
Last December, the City of Montréal awarded the contract for this project to the Douglas Mental Health University Institute Research Centre, under the shared direction of Eric Latimer, PhD and James McGregor, expert in social housing. The mandate is to examine homeless street counts/surveys in other major cities in North America and Europe, propose an approach uniquely suited to Montréal, direct and oversee the count on March 24, 2015, and deliver a report to the City that provides the results of the homeless survey. The mandate also includes estimating the number of hidden homeless, which will be carried out by conducting supplementary surveys during the next two days.
Other than the Douglas Institute Research Centre, the project brings together a variety of important partners:
- The YMCAs of Québec: recruiting and training volunteers
- Convercité: mapping and data analysis
- Accueil Bonneau, Maison du Père, Welcome Hall Mission, Old Brewery Mission, Projets Autochtones du Québec: community expertise
- Peer Committee: street experience
- Scientific Committee: elaboration of the methodology
The success of this project also depends on the collaboration of the various partners active in homelessness including community organisations, municipal boroughs, the Montreal transit (STM), the Montréal Police (SPVM), owners of large downtown buildings, universities, hospitals, etc.
For a wide variety of activities, indicators are used to measure and evaluate. In education for example, marks evaluate students’ progress over time. In health, professionals use numerous indicators to understand their patients’ health and to provide better clinical care.
In Montréal, the last study on the number of people experiencing homelessness dates from the late 1990s. Since that time, the profile of the homeless population has changed. The increasing use of services for homeless people by youth, aboriginals, women and immigrants and the ever-growing complexity of needs of the homelessness population are some of the challenges facing organizations working on the ground.
The City of Montréal wishes to use better tools that will help it to assist its most vulnerable citizens in exiting homelessness. The Montréal Homelessness Survey will not only provide a more precise estimate of the number of people experiencing homelessness in Montréal on March 24, it will also provide supplementary information concerning the individuals (background, age, housing and homelessness history, etc.).
In Canada, the cities of Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Timmins, Toronto and Moncton, among others, have been conducting street counts, some for several years. In the United States, all large cities are now required to conduct a street count every one or two years. In Europe, many large cities such as Paris and Brussels have also adopted this practice.
Montréal is innovating in applying a new methodology in order to obtain information on the nature and extent of the poorly understood, but widespread, phenomenon of hidden homelessness.
In order to define the methodology to use for the Montréal Homelessness Survey, the Douglas Institute Research Centre, with advice from a scientific committee, completed a literature review and analysed the methodologies used in street counts/surveys in Canadian, American and European cities, as well as the limited methodologies that have been used to study hidden homelessness in Vancouver and Los Angeles.
Following this analysis, in collaboration with the City of Montréal, it has been decided to hold the homelessness survey on the evening of Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Teams of volunteers will comb various resources (shelters, transition homes, emergency rooms, etc.) as well as the streets and other public places.
The following two days, more volunteers will visit day centres and other similar locations where people experiencing homelessness may be found in order to complete the information collected on the evening of March 24 and, more importantly, to get a better portrait of hidden homelessness. We know that a large number of people (notably women and youth) do not use shelters and other resources for the homeless, but remain in extremely fragile conditions that are largely out of sight (such as couch-surfing or staying in temporary accommodation with no security or permanence).
The Montréal Homelessness Survey will not only provide a more precise estimate of the number of homeless people in Montréal on March 24, it will also provide supplementary information concerning these individuals (background, age, housing and homelessness history, etc.). It should be noted that at no time will they be asked their name.
While it is generally recognised that street counts tend to underestimate the real number of homeless persons, this count is doing everything possible to obtain the most accurate portrait possible on the night of March 24, 2015. The value of this exercise is to scientifically measure the homelessness situation in Montréal. By updating the data regularly, as announced by the City in its Plan d’action en itinérance, it will be possible to follow progress and better assist our most vulnerable citizens to exit homelessness.
The Scientific Committee
The Scientific Committee brings together researchers, health professionals and managers from McGill University, Université de Montréal, University of Calgary, York University, the CHUM and the Public Health Department.
- Plan d’action montréalais en itinérance 2014-2017
- Itinérance au Québec – Premier portrait
- The State of Homelessness in Canada 2014
- Homeless Hub – a Canadian resource on homelessness
- Canadian Definition of Homelessness
- Vancouver – 2014 Homelessness Count Executive Summary
- Vancouver – Results of the 2014 Homelessness Count
- Calgary – Point-in-time Count Report 2014
- Toronto – 2013 Street Needs Assessment Results
- New York – HOPE 2015 Street Survey
- Brussels – 2010 Street Count
- Paris – A study on the homeless