Backgrounder: Toronto’s Fourth Street Needs Assessment
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Updated April 24, 2018
Toronto’s Fourth Street Needs Assessment to Take Place April 26
About 1,000 volunteers, team leads from community agencies and City staff will fan out across the city on the evening of April 26 to ask people in shelters, 24-hour respite sites, motel programs, and on the streets to complete a 23-question survey. As well, data will be collected for that night’s occupancy in City-administered shelters and motel programs, shelters for victims of domestic violence, 24-hour respite sites, and health care and corrections facilities for those with no fixed address. At the same time, a count of those sleeping rough will be done according to a generally accepted methodology to estimate a point in time outdoor count.
Direct costs for this project are about $250,000, funded by the federal government.
For the first time, the City of Toronto’s homeless count is part of the federal government’s national co-ordinated point-in-time count. Results will be included in the 2018 national snapshot of homelessness. The provincial government has recently made local homeless enumeration on a bi-annual basis a requirement for municipalities in order to receive funding for homelessness services.
Street Needs Assessment (SNA) results provide a valuable source of feedback on the services that homeless people find useful in helping them to access permanent housing and remain in their homes. The results inform service planning.
This year the City is working with the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness, which is recruiting the team leads for the project, as well as the Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council, which is assisting with training and project development.
This year’s results will be compared to findings from 2006, 2009 and 2013 and will be used as a snapshot to update the size and makeup of the City’s homeless population.
The intent of the Street Needs Assessment is to determine the services that people who are homeless need in order to help them find and keep permanent housing. Results over time measure how well the City is doing on the overall goal to end homelessness. As such, there are strong linkages to City objectives of poverty reduction, prosperity, livability and opportunity for all. In the process, by involving Toronto residents in this initiative, the intent is also to increase awareness of homelessness and those who are experiencing it.
2018 Street Needs Assessment (SNA) Methodology
- The SNA is a needs assessment survey and point-in-time estimate of the number of people experiencing unsheltered and sheltered homelessness in Toronto.
- The SNA is a unique data source for the City of Toronto, as neither Statistics Canada nor any other institution systematically collects information regarding the Toronto homeless population as a whole.
- The SNA employs a point-in-time methodology for enumerating homelessness that is now the standard for most major American and Canadian urban centres.
- The City of Toronto also employs quality assurance measures to refine the accuracy of the outdoor estimate.
- A consistent methodology and approach to the SNA survey has been used each year to ensure comparable results over time.
Unsheltered Homelessness Enumeration Methodology
- Following New York City’s Department of Homeless Services approach to the annual Hope Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE), the City of Toronto employs a direct count method for the count of the outdoor homeless population. While this method is more resource intensive, it is also considered to be more comprehensive and accurate than the alternative – which strictly relies on service interactions.
- In order to facilitate the point-in-time count for the outdoor homeless population, the city is divided into study areas, based on Statistics Canada census tracts.
- Owing to time and resource constraints, not all study areas can be surveyed during the course of the SNA.
- The City of Toronto uses a combination of full coverage, known-locations and random sampling approaches to select outdoor study areas. All high density areas are surveyed which includes full coverage of the downtown core (Humber River to the west, Pape Avenue to the east, Dupont Street to the north and Lake Ontario to the south).
- Areas outside of the downtown core with a known concentration of people experiencing homelessness identified based on consultation with City and community outreach staff are also surveyed.
- A random sample of low density study areas is also selected and stratified to ensure proportional distribution across Toronto’s four Community Council areas.
- Volunteer teams are assigned to study areas (or groups of study areas) and instructed to survey all public spaces systematically, so that each location is covered only once. Public spaces includes all streets and public squares. This year, teams of City staff will canvass, by vehicle, areas outside of the downtown core which are typically lower density areas.
- Special teams of staff are deployed to hard-to-reach areas, such as ravines, parks, valleys and areas surrounding expressways (such as on ramps and viaducts) with known homeless encampments, as well as to any locations within survey areas not covered by regular teams for logistical or safety reasons.
Control groups are deployed to a sample of study areas to enable calculation of adjustments to account for those individuals not encountered but experiencing homelessness on the night of the enumeration.
- The outdoor population estimate is derived from the number of outdoor surveys completed during the SNA. In order to refine the estimate, calculated adjustments are made to account for coverage of survey areas as well as visit and capture rates for the target population.
Sheltered Homelessness Enumeration Methodology
- An enumeration of individuals staying in indoor sites is conducted based on occupancy reports provided by City shelters, 24-hour women’s drop-ins, Winter Respite Services (open on the night of the count), Violence Against Women shelters (provided by the provincial Ministry of Community and Social Services), health and treatment facilities (provided by staff contacts in each facility) and correctional facilities (provided by the provincial Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services).
- Different from the previous SNA, this year we are selecting a sample of indoor sites to conduct the needs assessment survey. Sites have been selected to ensure a sufficient sample size that represents the diversity of clients and shelters across the shelter system. Surveys will not be conducted this year within health and treatment and correctional facilities.
Results of the Last SNA
Results from the previous SNA showed an overwhelming desire among homeless people for permanent housing and assistance in accessing and retaining housing. This reinforced the “housing first” approach already underway.
The last survey showed one in five homeless youth identify as LGBTQ2S which spurred the City to open two new shelter programs for this population (one opened January 2017 and the other will open later this year).
That survey also showed that the share of seniors in the homeless population had doubled since the previous survey, which resulted in additional shelter programming for seniors.
When Results Will Be Available
A preliminary report will be released by July 30, 2018 to provide high level summary information. The full report is expected to be available in November 2018.
Patricia Anderson, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, 416-397-4328, Patricia.Anderson@toronto.ca
Sonia Zyvatkauskas, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, 416-392-1264, Sonia.Zyvatkauskas@toronto.ca