‘Hidden homeless’ not counted in New Brunswick

    Numbers released in the most recent Report Card on Homelessness don’t reflect the province’s ‘hidden homeless.’ (Tom Bateman/AQ)

    There’s been a decrease in people staying at homeless shelters across the province, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in people living on the streets, said Tim Ross, coordinator of Fredericton’s Community Action Group on Homelessness.

    The group released the fourth-annual New Brunswick Report Card on Homelessness on March 19. It compared 2010 and 2011 data, but the numbers don’t reflect the “hidden homeless,” Ross said.

    “Individuals who are hidden homeless are sleeping outside. Some people call them rough sleepers. There are also a lot of people who are couch surfing without a fixed address and especially vulnerable.”

    The report looked at Fredericton, Moncton, Saint John and Bathurst.

    For four years, Fredericton has seen a decline in people staying at emergency shelters. When the reports started being released in 2008, there were 432 people who had stayed in a shelter. That has dropped to 298 in 2011.

    City councillor Mike O’Brien is the chair of Fredericton’s affordable housing committee. He said the “hidden homeless” is another issue that needs to be addressed.

    “That’s the next layer. You keep peeling an onion, there’s always another layer.”

    Provincewide, there were 1,410 people who stayed at an emergency homeless shelter in 2010. That number decreased to 1,296 last year.

    “We don’t attempt to get a handle on people who are sleeping rough outside, nor do we have a good handle on all the people who are homeless,” said Randy Hatfield, the executive director of the Human Development Council in Saint John.

    “All we can do is take a look at people who use shelter beds.”

    He said part of the reason for the decrease in shelter use is people are successfully transitioning to housing.

    There were 982 people on the waiting list for affordable housing last year, and Hatfield said the need is greater than that.

    In the long run, it would be more cost-efficient to provide people with a stable roof over their heads. Hatfield said when you crunch the numbers, there are not only moral reasons for doing this, but economic ones as well.

    These economic reasons are highlighted by the 12-unit apartment building opened in October 2010 by the John Howard Society in Fredericton. This building provides housing to people who would have previously relied on shelters.

    After the building opened, tenants reduced their run-ins with the justice system from 465 to 30. They had less need for emergency services as well, from 34 to one.

    “It’s a dramatic drop in the use of services because they’re now more confident and have a place to live and become part of the community,” said O’Brien.

    The apartment building is a housing-first model. This means tenants don’t need to tackle issues like addictions before moving in.

    The John Howard Society has training and support available to tenants on site.

    A poverty reduction plan was launched by the New Brunswick government in 2009. O’Brien said they plan on continuing to implement items in the strategy.

    Hatfield said there is a role the government must play in ending homelessness, but everyone has to try to shrink the gap between the rich and poor.

    Ross said the resources are there, but they are not being targeted adequately.

    “If we’re already spending an enormous amount to resource costly institutions and emergency responses to homeless, obviously the government has the resources to end homelessness.”