Niagara Counts Results 2021

The Point-in-Time Count is a count of individuals experiencing homelessness in Niagara at a given time. The survey provides us with information on the demographics, experience and service needs of individuals experiencing homelessness.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Point-in-Time Count used community agency staff instead of volunteers and put enhanced COVID-19 safety measures in place. The 2021 results may not be directly comparable to those of years past because of changes enacted.

Read the full Homelessness Point-in-Time Count report.

People experiencing homelessness in Niagara

On March 23, 2021, at least 665 people were experiencing homelessness in Niagara compared to 625 in 2018. 121 were children aged 0-15 years compared to 144 children in 2018. 76 were youth aged 16-24 years.

Where are you staying tonight?

  • 219Emergency or domestic violence shelters, safe beds
  • 128Transitional housing
  • 47Unsheltered location (public space, vehicle)
  • 35With family or friends, "couch-surfing"
  • 10Motel, temporary station

Of those respondents, 47 were staying in unsheltered locations or responded "I don't know" to the question of where they were staying overnight. This is an increase from 20 in 2018.

There are several possible reasons for the higher number of individuals in the unsheltered / unsure category. More individuals may have been sleeping in unsheltered settings to avoid an emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also, Niagara Assertive Street Outreach has been operating for a year and has a well-developed sense of where individuals in unsheltered locations are staying. They also have greater capacity for outreach work than what was in place in 2018 and were able to travel to all known locations in the region.

Survey results

The following provides an overview of the findings from the 439 surveys that were completed in 2021.

Respondent's age

In Niagara, shelter diversion programs for youth have successfully prevented youth from entering the shelter system. The shelter diversion programs, established in 2019, are a collaborative effort with multiple shelter organizations in Niagara, and helps youth aged 16-24 find alternative housing options in the community. Many youth shelter programs in Niagara have also increased their focus on housing and reconnecting youth to their family, friends, schools and their home communities.

Indigenous ancestry

Almost 1 in 4 (22.6 per cent) of respondents identified as Indigenous or having Indigenous ancestry. This continues to remain vastly disproportionate to the 2.8 per cent of Niagara's overall population with Indigenous identity.

People with Indigenous identity and / or ancestry are dramatically overrepresented in the homeless population across the country.

Respondent's highest education

The data suggests that more survey respondents indicated having received higher education levels than in the past. In 2021, 66.3 per cent had high school or greater compared to 61.5 per cent in 2018.

Experiencing homelessness for the first time

In 2021, 24 per cent had experienced homelessness for the first time before 18 years of age compared to 36 per cent in 2018.

Chronic homelessness

Over the past year, 42 per cent of respondents had been homeless six or more months.

Reasons for most recent housing loss

The top five reasons given for most recent housing loss were:

  • Financial hardship - 22.8 per cent
  • Conflict with spouse / partner - 13.7 per cent
  • Landlord / tenant conflict - 12.8 per cent
  • Addiction or substance use - 11.6 per cent
  • Unsafe housing conditions - 10.3 per cent

The reasons for housing loss haven't significantly changed when compared to 2018.

The 2021 PiT Count survey also looked to identify the impact of COVID-19 on housing loss and 35 survey respondents indicated that their most recent housing loss was also related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Top five challenges finding housing

High rent and low income are the biggest challenges that a large majority of survey respondents continue to face in 2021.

Approximately a quarter of survey responses indicated that poor housing conditions presented as a challenge when looking for housing. Other key challenges included having mental health issues, and experiencing discrimination, such as discrimination based on income / social status, age or race.

Self-identified health conditions

The top five reasons given for most recent housing loss were:

  • Mental health issue - 61.4 per cent
  • Substance abuse issue - 40.5 per cent
  • Learning disability - 37.7 per cent
  • Illness or medical condition - 36.4 per cent
  • Physical disability - 33.6 per cent

More than 60 per cent (compared to 53.9 per cent in 2018) of survey respondents self-identified as having a mental health issue and 40.5 per cent (compared to 34.3 per cent in 2018) of respondents self-identified as having a substance use issue.

While having a mental health or substance use issue doesn't equate to experiencing or being at-risk of experiencing homelessness, people experiencing homelessness are disproportionately affected by mental health and addictions issues. Often, the stress of being homeless may exacerbate a previous mental illness or substance use issue, and / or the difficulties of being homeless may encourage anxiety or depressive disorders.

The 2021 survey gave respondents the option to indicate whether they self-identified as having a learning disability or cognitive limitation, such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, which 37.8 per cent of survey respondents indicated that they did.

Respondents self-identified 33.7 per cent of the time (compared to 24.5 per cent in 2018) as having a physical disability. Based on the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, this is higher than the estimated 20 per cent of individuals that indicated they had one or more disabilities.

Next steps

  • Work with our Indigenous partners at the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre and Niagara Regional Native Centre to host Indigenous magnet events
  • Determine which areas need a deeper dive into the data or priority groups
  • Determine where we need more information and incorporate that into our Homelessness Data Strategy, which is in development

The final report, including the outcomes of the Indigenous magnet event, will be released late fall 2021.

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