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New research compares high Nanaimo homelessness rate to cities across Canada

Lack of affordable housing and homelessness are issues facing communities right across the country.  

Stock phot and graph WEB SIZE.jpgBut just how dire is the situation in your community compared to others? And is your community getting fair funding from provincial and federal governments compared to other communities?   

These are the questions Andrew Thornton is looking to answer for Nanaimo, along with the help of VIU Social Work Research practicum student Morgan Jarvis.  

Andrew is a research consultant who works with the Nanaimo Region John Howard Society’s Centre for Justice, Education and Research – a centre focused on providing answers to important questions about and informed by community members, to facilitate education and action.   

Andrew’s project recently received funding from United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island and the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy for his proposed project called A Comparative Study of Homelessness in the Era of COVID: Where Does Nanaimo Stand?  

It came about after Andrew did some quick math on one of Nanaimo’s Point-in-Time counts (a one-day count of people without housing) and compared it to Point in Time counts from a few other communities versus their populations.  

“Nanaimo had the highest per capita homeless amongst these several cities,” he says. “It was not as high as, say, the City of Vancouver, but it was very much in the same ballpark,” says Andrew.  

Now, Andrew is working to get some firmer numbers behind that hypothesis. The argument is that, on a per capita basis, Nanaimo’s rate of homelessness and people at risk of homelessness is much higher than is acknowledged and one of the highest in the entire country. The goal is to use this research to push for greater funding from federal and provincial governments. 

Based on Nanaimo’s 2020 Point in Time Count, about 1 in 230 individuals in Nanaimo are homeless on any given night. And that number should be considered a minimum, as Point in Time Counts, or PiT Counts only give a quick, one-day snapshot of homelessness.  

Further research conducted by Turner Strategies for the City of Nanaimo shows that approximately 1800 people cycle in and out of absolute, hidden or episodic homelessness, and at minimum, another 6,000 are at risk of homelessness.  

Andrew and Morgan are using these stats and others to compare to 10 other similarly-sized Canadian cities/municipalities, including Kamloops, Kelowna, Red Deer (Alberta), Lethbridge (Alberta), Brandon (Manitoba), Thunder Bay (Ontario) and others.  

Andrew and Morgan’s research project is not yet finished, but so far, they say their hypothesis is holding true.  

Final conclusions have yet to be drawn, but Andrew says that, once they are, he hopes the results will have an impact, and start conversations around how much more funding Nanaimo needs.  

“My hope always with research is … if people have good information, they will use it,” he says. “At least if you have decent information, decent data, the best we can get a hold of, there is some hope that people will actually use that, instead of all the mythology.”  

Andrew noted, however, that this information is not meant to detract from the problems of housing and homelessness all across the country.  

“Everyone’s homelessness problems are bad across Canada. Like a lot of people have been saying in the homelessness sector, there was a pandemic of homelessness before COVID, and it’s continuing, and it probably, most likely has been made worse by COVID. So, the better data we can have, if we can have some anchor, a stake in the ground to refer to, we can make better decisions about what needs to be done.”  

Check back for our next post on this research, when we reveal the results.  

If you’d like to learn more about the Centre for Justice, Education and Research, click HERE for a video presentation from Andrew.  

United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island is committed to gathering funds, working with various organizations and funding meaningful programs in communities from the Malahat north to protect our communities and our neighbours living without homes. To do that, we need to make sure that provincial and federal governments know how bad the situation is, and how much support is needed. Research like this is enabling us to do that.  

Please, if you can, donate to United Way CNVI today to fund research and frontline programs in your community. If you can’t and are in need of help, please call 2-1-1, and speak to a bc211 Navigator who can connect you with help and supports in your community.