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The Region of Waterloo is aiming to end homelessness with the push of the Ontario government and the encouragement of the Canadian government. 

“It’s not far fetched, it’s possible to do, but you have to have the right resources for the right kinds of things,” said Deb Schlichter, the Region of Waterloo’s Director of Housing. 

“It’s an ambitious goal but there are some other communities that have started to make that happen and we want to be one of those.”

Earlier in the year, the federal government provided a guide as to how to tackle the issue of finding the level of homelessness in local communities, by providing an online guide on methodologies that could be used. Later in March, the Ontario government mandated that service management areas have to participate in either a count or a survey to track how many people experience homelessness every two years.

“While the federal government is saying it’s good to do it, the province is saying that you have to do it,” Schlicter said. 

And so, the Region of Waterloo started their data collecting in April as part of their process in ending homelessness. 

The Region conducted their second Point in Time Count (PiT Count) — which was also recommended by the provincial government — on April 23, with 93 volunteers registered. 

“You just take one day in a particular year and you go out and count everyone on that day,” Schlicter said. “That sort of gives you a sense of the size of the group that’s homeless. It’s just from that day, so it’s a snapshot.”

The first Point in Time Count was conducted in 2014, before the government mandated communities to conduct them. 

In addition to the count, the Region is also conducting surveys to get a better assessment of the demographic of the homeless. 

“The importance is that if you’re just doing a count you really only know numbers but you don’t know more than that,” Schlicter said. “The survey gathers a lot more information we get a sense of what people’s issues are, what their concerns are, and their risk level. Because we use that to help us when people want to access supportive housing, house grants — we need to know how at risk they are. That’s how they get prioritized.” 

In addition to the PiT Count, the Region also conducted a Period Prevalence Count from April 12-26 in the rural areas. 

Schlicter emphasized the importance of having a count in these areas. 

“The other part of doing count is that homelessness is not visible. You don’t necessarily see it. Especially with rural homelessness, that’s why we have rural agencies helping us with this, as well,” she said. 

“It’s really about relationships, these people really connect to these groups so we have to make sure we have an accurate count. If it’s not accurate, it’s not worth doing. It’s not an easy group sometimes to find, so we have to work with people who are already connected and can help us do that well.”

Registry Week is another assessment that took place in the Region from April 12 – 30, where emergency shelters and street outreach programs are analyzed extensively, given this winter’s increase in need for shelter space.

“We have a typical shelter that gets funding for the Region, and they have a capacity. And when we reach capacity we move to what we call our overflow model,” Schlicter explained. “We don’t ever say ‘we’re full.’ We have other ways of trying to manage the numbers.”  

“Over the winter, the numbers have gone up. Typically, we see numbers go up anyway in the winter so it’s not surprising, what was surprising is how many we see in the winter is much higher than normal. We had to devise some other way of managing the numbers, but we have a system in place to manage.”

Schlicter hopes that the data collected from April will be beneficial in tackling homelessness by providing insight on how they could better improve the services that are already in place, such as their home-based support program and their access system.

Schlicter also mentioned that the types of services needed for certain people experiencing homelessness vary, which is why getting a bigger picture of the Region’s homeless population is important. 

“The kind of supportive housing that we need for that group is different than those with lower risks. It informs our programs and informs our resource allocations [as to] where we’re going to put our money. We’re putting it in not building more shelters, but to building more homes. And that’s how we’re going to end homelessness.”