Where did you sleep the night of Nov. 17?
This is one of many questions people experiencing homelessness across Simcoe County are being asked this week as part of the 2020 Homelessness Enumeration, completed every two years across Simcoe County.
The point-in-time count was planned to take place in April, however COVID-19 put plans on hold.
From Nov. 17 to 23, the count is taking place overseen by multiple agencies who deal with homelessness locally. While the results might not fully encompass the depth of the problem due to the outreach component being limited this time around, shelter workers say this year’s unique circumstances may actually lead to more accurate numbers.
“It’s a capture of how many people are experiencing homelessness in a 24-hour period,” said Linda Goodall, executive director of Lighthouse Shelter and Soup Kitchen in Orillia.
The agency is one of many participating in the count, and is also one of eight agencies across Simcoe County using the hotel model for emergency shelter due to COVID-19. BarrieToday agreed to not report the names of the hotels due to privacy concerns.
“Each individual number is a person and a story, but getting the data around how many people are actually experiencing homelessness is really important,” said Goodall. “It’s important for us as organizations, the city, the county and the provincial and federal governments to know how many people are experiencing this.”
Goodall says the data collected previously in 2016 and 2018 was used for a variety of purposes, from raising awareness at municipal councils, to shaping policy across governments and applying for programming funding and grants. The count itself is paid for through federal funding. Any person who completes a survey is given a $10 gift card.
“It’s different this year because it’s staff-led, as opposed to volunteers,” said Goodall. “We had some amazing volunteers and we will again, but this year it’s staff only doing the actual surveys with the individuals.”
Outreach workers will also be used in some areas, while following proper health protocols. The survey will be done primarily online, to minimize the transfer of papers between hands.
Questions posed through the survey include demographic information such as gender, age and ethnicity. This year, new questions have been added to assess whether homelessness may have been caused by COVID-19 fallout.
“There are some personal questions that really lead to gathering an overview of what has led to homelessness,” said Goodall. “Typically, people are really open to sharing their stories.”
When looking back on 2018 numbers (there were 97 people counted as homeless in Orillia at that point-in-time count), Goodall said she does see room for improvement.
“Do I think there were some missed in Orillia? Yes,” she said. “Do I feel there’s more? I do. I don’t have an exact number, but I do feel there were more.”
Goodall doesn’t want to speculate on what she thinks the 2020 point-in-time count will reveal in regards to whether homelessness numbers have gone up, down or stayed steady compared to 2018.
“I mean, we had 14 beds for men at the shelter (then), but I believe we have 42 men and women right now at the emergency shelter in the hotel. That alone is a huge increase in people who would have been living on the street,” she said.
Goodall says that, ideally, the count would capture everyone, but that goal isn’t necessarily realistic.
“We’re always trying to capture that clear picture, but you can never get everybody. There are people sleeping on couches, or who don’t come out of their tents. Today, it’s snowing. We can only do our best,” she said.
One person living in the emergency shelter in Orillia who completed the survey Tuesday was Genevieve Delcourt, 42, who agreed to share her story.
Delcourt moved into the women’s floor of the hotel just a few days ago with her partner, who lives on the floor for men.
Previous to coming to the shelter, she and her partner had been sleeping in a shed. Delcourt said this is her first time in a shelter in Orillia. She said she’s grown up in the shelter system, bouncing from town to town. She was born in Quebec.
“I have 11 children. I lost them to CAS (Children’s Aid Society) because of homelessness,” Delcourt said through tears.
She said it’s been a couple of years since she’s seen them, but she keeps in contact with two of them through their adoptive parent.
“It’s been hard. People are judgmental, but there’s a lot of help out there where people aren’t judging you,” she said.
Delcourt first came to Orillia when her father opened a restaurant in the area. The restaurant closed after her father died and her living situation has been tenuous since. She said she’s been homeless for about a year, after a roommate moved out of her shared apartment and she was unable to keep up with rent on her own.
“There’s lots of help in the shelter here. They’ve been so helpful so far. I’ve been starting to look for housing and a job,” she said. “I am able to work but I have to get identification first like a health card. Being homeless, I lost everything.”
Looking to the future, Delcourt said she’d like to find a job in housekeeping or the restaurant business.
“I’m people-oriented,” she said with a smile.
Trish Holloway is the operations manager for the Orillia emergency shelter.
Holloway says she thinks that COVID-19 will help make the enumeration more accurate than in previous years.
“I think if we were operating out of our regular facility and serving only 14 men, then I would be worried. Because then I would be wondering, how do we capture all the other folks?” said Holloway. “Because we’re using this hotel model, we now have a women’s shelter here, plus we have Green Haven, plus we have Jubilee House. That new component wasn’t here last time. Potentially, we would have reached them through outreach, but the likelihood is higher here.
“The odds in terms of serving and connecting... the likelihood is we’ll be capturing more people because they’re getting services we didn’t even have last year,” she added.
The enumeration is taking place until Monday. Once the data is compiled, a report will be prepared by Simcoe County staff and provided to the public.