Homelessness highlighted as issue in Renfrew County

Pembroke – Renfrew County councillors were given a picture of the 43 people who are considered homeless in the county, noting more people are comfortable discussing the issue and disclosing their status as homeless, but the figure falls short of the number who are homeless locally.

“There are more and more people who are willing to come forward,” North Algona Wilberforce Mayor James Brose said at a recent meeting of county council.

A recent report to the county showed contributing factors for homelessness included: physical limitations (53 percent), medical condition (44 percent), mental health (40 percent), substance abuse (33 percent) and cognitive limitations (19 percent.)

While the recent report showed there are around 43 people who identified as being homeless, this is still considered as underrepresenting the real picture. However, this is a big jump from previous counts, where the number was 17 who considered themselves homeless and were willing to participate in the survey, Mayor Brose noted.

The Community Services Department conducted the survey on September 18, 2022 and the information was reported to council in January. The 43 homeless individuals included people who were unsheltered, emergency sheltered and provisionally accommodated.

The survey was both a point in time reflecting on the specific day and also a standard survey. The survey relied on people attending service locations, so the staff report noted, “the data only partially represents homelessness in Renfrew County. The number of people experiencing homelessness is not completely reflected with our survey results.”

The survey results presented the reasons for homelessness which included: relationship breakdown, evicted, kicked out, other and non-disclosed.

The survey results showed 53 percent had been homeless for more than six months. As well, 58 percent were male, with 28 percent female, nine percent non-disclosed, two percent non-binary and two percent “other.”

The majority were adults, between 18-64 (65 percent) with youth at 21 percent. The survey showed 30 percent identified as Indigenous.

Director of Social Services Laura Lepine said the figures released by the county are a “point in time” measuring one day and showed there were 43 people coming forward as homeless. As well, there are programs which are in place to help, she noted.

“We have been able to sign up quite a few individuals for the ‘ending homelessness program’,” she said.

The county staff do intensive case management with the persons involved to get them connected with agencies which can help.

“Quite a few of the 43 have agreed to sign up for our services,” she added.

Arnprior County Councillor Dan Lynch questioned if there is information showing where the people are in the county. He also asked if there was a bit of an urban and rural divide for the homeless population.

“Are there more people in Arnprior than Barry’s Bay?” he asked.

Ms. Lepine said the county does have information on the location of the individuals and the majority of people have identified as living in more urban centres.

This in part can be because of accessing help and services available to them in more urban centres, she said.

“People have issues with transportation,” she said. “If they access services they remain in that community.”

People are also housed around the hub which they are predominantly associated with, she added.

“We do have folks that are rural as well.”

Deep River Reeve Glenn Doncaster noted it had been expressed many times these were simply the 43 people who identified as homeless and the number is actually higher.

“Do we have a better understanding of what the real number is?” he asked.

Ms. Lepine said while exact numbers are not known, there are more homeless people who did not participate in the survey.

The county does have numbers of people who are finding help through the county services, she said.

“What we find is there are people who do not want to participate in surveys,” she said.

The survey presents a picture of the homeless situation, but the reality is higher than what it shows, she added.

“We know it is higher than 43,” she said.

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader