‍Why a Homelessness Estimation is your community's best first step to address homelessness

It is no surprise that with the skyrocketing cost of living and the beginnings of a national housing crisis, homelessness has become a major problem across Canada. Homelessness is very visible in urban areas as it is common to see individuals sleeping in the streets, which is easier to identify than rural homelessness. Rural homelessness is more often concealed and can present itself as individuals couch-surfing or living in inadequate housing. It is more hidden and harder to casually recognize, which is why a professional homelessness estimation is necessary.

Even while employed, the increase in interest rates and utility costs makes it very difficult to own a home and even worse to rent. With various contributing factors to homelessness, having a roof over your head now seems like a luxury not many can afford.

“Based on the data from the provincial project, 69% of housing insecure respondents are employed. One of the common assumptions made of folks experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness is that they should get a job. When the reality is that we're in a cost of living crisis, we are in a housing crisis and the data clearly shows that having a job simply isn’t enough anymore,” says Emma Wallace, Project Manager of Community Development and Homelessness Estimations at the Rural Development Network (RDN). 

Given the complexities surrounding homelessness in rural areas and the varying ways it impacts communities, working with RDN to estimate homelessness in your community is a great way to get started.

What is a Homelessness Estimation?

The Rural Development Network’s Homelessness Estimations Project helps support rural, remote, and Indigenous communities in Canada by measuring homelessness effectively.

When a community approaches RDN with concerns about homelessness, Emma and her team walk them through developing a survey, followed by identifying community organizations that can distribute and promote it. After 30 days, RDN will collect the surveys and analyze them to draft a final community report. 

This whole process is a community effort that involves service providers, municipal governments, and folks experiencing homelessness. This methodology is based on the Step-by-Step Guide to Estimating Rural Homelessness

“We developed the Step-by-Step Guide to estimating rural, remote and Indigenous homelessness in 2017 and it is the methodology that we use to support communities in understanding homelessness in their area and that came out of a need identified by rural communities,” says Emma. 

Finally, based on an analysis of all the data collected and presented in the report, RDN develops a set of opportunities the community can undertake to address housing insecurity moving forward

An estimation can help your community understand what homelessness looks like

A Homelessness Estimation has proven to be effective for communities struggling with resources and accurately identifying how many people are experiencing homelessness. 

For example, a final estimations report contains valuable information for communities such as:

  • A demographic breakdown of survey respondents experiencing housing insecurity.
  • A detailed breakdown and analysis of housing insecure respondents including their education, employment, and income as well as their living situation. 
  • An understanding of housing insecure respondents' experiences with community supports and services. 
  • A deep dive into all survey respondents (housing secure and housing insecure) insights into the community including what they love about the community, what they don’t like about the community, and where they feel safe and/or unsafe in the community.
“Homelessness tends to present itself differently in rural areas. So in urban centers, it's quite easy to just walk down a street and see folks who are unsheltered but in rural communities, we see a lot more people who are couch surfing, living in inadequate housing, and just experiencing really different types of homelessness,” Emma expressed.

An estimation additionally helps give an accurate or representative portrayal of what people in the community are currently struggling with or experiencing in terms of housing insecurity.

“The estimation process provides folks experiencing homelessness with an opportunity to share their thoughts, insights, reflections and experiences that will ultimately influence the way a community addresses homelessness in the future,” adds Emma.

By including community members impacted by homelessness in the estimation, communities get an in-depth first-view perspective that is crucial in understanding the problem. 

An estimation can help your community get funding to address homelessness/housing insecurity

Many communities face challenges with providing evidence to support their applications for funding to support complex social issues. However, with the findings from a Homelessness Estimation report, communities can confidently apply for funding to begin developing solutions to address homelessness and housing insecurity. In other words, a Homelessness Estimation report can act as an evidence-based advocacy tool for communities. 

For example, after Conklin, Alberta received a Homelessness Estimations report in 2018, Cenova created a 5-year $50 million project to address homelessness in their community. And, Drayton Valley used the data collected in their 2020 estimation report to secure funding for emergency shelter pods for those experiencing homelessness to find safe and warm refuge.

“I think one of the main values for communities in conducting an estimation is getting that big comprehensive picture of what homelessness looks like in their area – the who, why, and how many. Because of that communities can prove that homelessness exists in their area. They can access funding and start to develop solutions to address housing insecurity and homelessness in the community,” explains Emma.

An estimation can help your community determine what services are needed

By conducting an estimation, the final report can help communities identify what services are needed. These reports provide a data-driven foundation that highlights the necessary measures to be taken to support those who are housing insecure. As a result, communities can start to compare the existing services to what’s needed to identify and bridge the gaps in the services available. 

For example, based on their estimations report, the Soaring Eagle Support Society in White Court was able to advocate to transition a motel into an emergency and transitional shelter for community members. And, Peace River opened their first emergency shelter based on the needs identified through their homelessness estimation.  

“Communities also use these estimations to raise awareness within their communities about homelessness in their areas given its more hidden nature. So on a smaller scale, communities can improve on current programming. We also see a lot of collaborations between service providers coming out of an estimation project… Overall, I think we can say that meaningful and relevant data on rural, remote, and Indigenous homelessness is instrumental in supporting communities to address their needs,” says Emma. 

What’s next for the Homelessness Estimation Project?

Some communities have started to express interest in a community action plan which details step-by-step how a community can undertake some of the recommended opportunities provided in the final estimation report. This is the next step for the RDN team to continue to support communities and one that Emma’s team is already working on. 

“In an estimations report, we will have a section typically where we highlight some opportunities that a community can undertake to address housing insecurity in their area moving forward based on the data in the report. But they don't necessarily outline to a community, how they can actually action that…This is why we've started exploring with communities, who are interested and have the capacity to undertake this type of project,” explains Emma. 

A community action plan would outline who needs to be involved including key partners, timelines, steps required to carry out the recommendations, and why it’s important to implement the recommendations. By receiving a community action plan, communities become better informed and equipped on what necessary next steps they need to take to address homelessness and support their housing insecure community members. 

Is your community interested in a homelessness estimation? 

Reach out to Emma Wallace, Project Manager of Community Development and Homelessness Estimations, at emmaw@ruraldevelopment.ca for more information!  


Minah Tau