Solutions to Homelessness – Trade Fairs and Connect Days

12 06 2009

we all have a story

One idea to help alleviate homelessness is centered on helping the homeless get connected with the services and programs that can help them get off the streets. Often the wide ranges of programs are a frustrating maze and it can be difficult to know about which services are available.  Creating a trade fair for homeless people has achieved great success in San Francisco, where a large convention hall was rented and nearly every social service provider in the city set up a table. This helped the homeless get connected with resources, clothing, short and long term housing options, legal rights information, benefits information, government identification cards, and more. The trade fair considered the needs of homeless people very well by having a secure place where they could place their belongings during the trade fare, which are often everything they have since they have no home. The results of the program in San Francisco can be viewed here, in terms of the number of services people got connected with, identification cards issued, and other services provided. This idea has also been implemented in Vancouver during our Homelessness Action Week where we had Homeless connect events throughout Metro Vancouver. Find out more about this and other proposed solutions to homeless in Vancouver here.

The benefits and value of any service can only be achieved if it can reach its clients, and this is essential especially for social services. Because the impact that any organization attempting to serve the homeless is dependent on getting connected with the client, I think this solution is a great way to make use of the resources available for homeless clients as well as to provide a networking tool for service providers to meet with each other as well.

If I were to pursue this solution, the key question I want to answer is: What is the capacity of services directed at serving the homeless in Metro Vancouver? If they are operating well below their capacity in terms of their performance measurements regarding how many homeless people they could serve, then perhaps this is an avenue that must be pursued year round, and not just in a onetime fair during homeless action week.

If I could improve this idea, I would make this more of a year-long initiative rather than a one time fair. One idea is to develop a comprehensive website listing all of the social services Metro Vancouver has directed at homelessness. The Red Book is a good start, but this online list of social and government agencies is quite broad and does not focus on services for the homeless only. Having a comprehensive website with links and basic descriptions of the many organizations serving the homeless would be useful for the homeless people themselves, and also for volunteers serving the homeless to be informed about the services available for their clients. They are often a regular contact with homeless people and can provide invaluable information to them. If anyone knows about such a website existing in Vancouver, please share it with us. Another idea is for each organization serving the homeless to nominate a few of their regular volunteers to be “Connect Ambassadors” who are experts on the services available to the homeless. These Connect Ambassadors would be familiar with the social services landscape and be able to make recommendations and referrals to their clients, thus providing each organization with a few experts on the services available to the homeless.

What are your thoughts on the idea of connecting homeless people to services designed to help them? Do you think this would have a big impact on the homeless problem?


Homelessness in Numbers

31 05 2009

poverty olympics

Just how many homeless people are there living in Metro Vancouver? On March 11, 2008 there was a count of homeless people, attempting to estimate the scale of the homeless problem in Metro Vancouver.  A point in time count was conducted, looking at the number of homeless people in any given day. You can see the full report here, and I will summarize the key findings below:

  1. The general count found 2,660 homeless people, with 41% being sheltered and 59% on the street. Because it was a point in time methodology, this number is an extremely conservative estimate.
  2. The number of homeless people grew by 22% in the region. What is astounding, is that many suburban municipalities saw more than 100% growth. The Tri Cities homeless number grew the most, at 140% compared to the 2005 count!
  3. There are more homeless on the street in 2008 (59%) compared to in 2005 (52%). Of the homeless living on the street, 3 out of 4 live in inhumane places, including the street, abandoned buildings, and public spaces.
  4. There are still more homeless men, but the number of homeless women is rising at a faster rate
  5. Just like the rest of Metro Vancouver, the homeless population is aging, with an average age of 41 in 2008 compared to 38 in 2005.
  6. Aboriginal people are worst affected by homelessness. While they only represent 2% of the population (based on a census), they make up 32% of the homeless population.
  7. 84% of the homeless population suffers from complex health problems. This is a 47% increase since 2005. These health problems include: addiction (61%), mental illness (33%), and physical disability (31%).
  8. 43% of the homeless receive income assistance as their major source of income, which is a 30% increase compared to 2005.

These statistics have forced me to ask the following fundamental questions:

  • If there are 30% more homeless people with access to income assistance, why has the number of homeless people still increased?
  • With the Winter 2010 Olympics coming to Vancouver, has it raised the costs of living, especially housing, so much that the affordability of living in Vancouver is just too high for those near the poverty line?
  • Why is the number of homeless women rising faster than men?
  • Why do aboriginal people make up such a huge proportion of the homeless population, relative to their size? What problems do we need to fix there?
  • Why was the greatest increase in homeless numbers found in the Tri Cities?