Dr. Isobel M. Findlay, University Co-Director, Community-University Institute for Social Research, University of Saskatchewan
Summary: On April 18, 2018, a huge community effort combined in Saskatoon’s fourth Point-in-Time (PIT) Homelessness Count, its first in the national coordinated count. Knowledge mobilization before, during, and after the count ensured that everyone counts in preventing and ending homelessness.
Case study: Mass homelessness is a phenomenon of human making. Disinvestment in safe, affordable housing and social supports along with economic shifts mean that 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness yearly, 50,000 face “hidden homelessness,” and many more are at risk. What once impacted few older males now impacts young and old, men and women, families, veterans, people with disabilities—and Indigenous people disproportionately. Coordinated, multi-sector human interventions, mobilizing diverse knowledges, are showing signs of preventing or even ending homelessness.
Making sure that “everyone counts,” the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy’s (HPS) second Coordinated Point-in-Time (PIT) Count, 2018, has engaged over 60 communities.
Guided by a thirty-organization Community Advisory Committee, Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) and Community-University Institute for Social Research (CUISR), University of Saskatchewan, completed Saskatoon’s fourth PIT count and first national count on April 18. From 2008, successive CUISR PIT counts have developed community networks, shared learning, and common purpose, teaching CUISR to rethink methods and knowledge mobilization to promote a community conversation—and a more comprehensive, multi-faceted evidence base. A PIT count “is a critical piece to shaping policy,” according to SHIP’s PIT Coordinator Colleen Christopherson-Cote.
Including hidden homelessness and expanding knowledge mobilization before, within, and after the count, in 2015 we engaged housed and unhoused in questions gauging perceptions of homelessness:
- Opening an important conversation, building awareness, and establishing baseline data
- Addressing ethical concerns around social stigma when only unhoused were surveyed
- Helping reduce volunteer anxieties about approaching potential survey participants
Thanks to HPS support in 2018, we added a youth magnet event at White Buffalo Youth Lodge (youth represent 20% of homelessness) with diverse ways to participate and document views—and we were able to thank survey participants (with a $10 gift card) for sharing their time and knowledge, respecting the ethical principle of Nothing about US without Us.
Thanks also to 120 volunteer surveyors (many repeats from previous counts) who completed three-hour training and contributed four-hour shifts to walk Saskatoon streets, we have data from 14 core questions comparable across the country and contextually-sensitive data based on local questions.
Now we begin communicating PIT count results—a sense-making, engaging, and educating process that can unpack myths, shape policy and programs, and rebuild our sense of community.
Refining our communication plan means knowing our own context and community, what has changed or not, so that we explain the meaning of the numbers. We need to be sensitive to (colonial) stories about those who have felt researched to death, yet neither respected nor heard. Giving life to the numbers, the voices of those experiencing homelessness help address costly systemic inequalities.
Using different media (infographics, posters, new releases, social media, debriefs, community events, reports, and articles), we will tell the stories of participants and of volunteers who have themselves experienced homelessness. We will contribute to the reconciliation narrative, acting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, so that we all understand our shared history on Treaty Six territory and the homelands of the Métis.