Number of youth in homelessness census raises concern

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A 24-hour census taken by End Homelessness Winnipeg shows many city shelter beds aren't being filled and a concerning number of youth experiencing homelessness.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/11/2021 (335 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A 24-hour census taken by End Homelessness Winnipeg shows many city shelter beds aren’t being filled and a concerning number of youth experiencing homelessness.

The data for the non-profit organization’s 2021 interim street census was released Tuesday. The survey, held April 21-22, collected information from shelters, transitional housing, encampments and other locations used by people experiencing homelessness over the span of 24 hours.

What it found: out of 1,127 people experiencing homelessness counted that day, 370 were unsheltered, 54 were in encampments, 300 were in emergency shelters, 229 were in 24-7 safe spaces and 174 were in transitional housing.

Some people experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg have set up in bus shelters. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Out of those surveyed, four per cent were under 18 and dependents, meaning a child with one or both parents, a number End Homelessness Winnipeg community relations manager Kristiana Clemens said was the most concerning and spoke to a need for stable, affordable and family-oriented housing in the city.

“That should alert us all to the real critical gap in affordable and low-income housing,” she said Tuesday.

Indigenous people were largely over-represented in the data, with 66 per cent of those surveyed identifying as Indigenous, despite making up 12 per cent of the overall population of Winnipeg. Including dependent children, 26 per cent of those surveyed were under 24, and almost three-quarters were male.

In the eight emergency shelter and transitional housing spaces surveyed, there were 118 unfilled beds available — an indicator many people experiencing homelessness are looking for other options even in dire situations, Clemens said.

“Given that there’s significant numbers of individuals unsheltered while there still remains capacity in the emergency shelters and safe-spaces network kind of suggest that people are looking for something else,” she said.

End Homeless Winnipeg released the findings from similar surveys in 2015 and 2018, but were forced to change the methodology of the street census this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Past years involved larger in-person surveys that wouldn’t be possible at the time of the 2021 census; the organization hopes to complete a full street census in 2022.

“I think the interim street census just confirms the information that we had already aware of and hearing in terms of the visible increase in unsheltered homelessness,” Clemens said.

Some living in an encampment along the Red River said they weren’t surprised by both the large number of empty beds and number of youth dealing with homelessness.

One, who goes by “Mama Bear,” said people staying at the encampment are often more likely to find community — and freedom — in such groups than they are at a shelter at night.

“It’s like being in jail… My wife and I came out here originally just because we couldn’t deal with being in the shelters anymore, and when we came out here it was darn cold,” she said.

The woman, a mother herself, said she was heartbroken to hear the statistic of youth dealing with homelessness was so high. No one under 18 is allowed to stay overnight at the encampment, but she said young people will at times pass through looking for support or a listening ear.

“We don’t want any young kids out here, but there are young kids that have grown up in environments like this and they come back to the streets or they continue on the streets,” she said.

“It is what it is, they know what they’re doing, but I don’t like to see it, because they get taken in by the gangs and things.”

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: malakabas_

Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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