The Kenora District Services Board says the amount of individuals experiencing homelessness in the Kenora region has dropped in the last four years.

The KDSB’s 2021 Homeless Enumeration Report is a point-in-time, one-day count of homeless individuals in each of the nine municipalities in the Kenora district, who all agreed to share their stories. The survey took place in October of 2021, with results being released late last week.

The KDSB’s report shows that staff found a total of 221 northwestern Ontario residents who self-identified as homeless. They include 121 in Kenora, 37 in Dryden, 36 in Sioux Lookout, 15 in Red Lake, 8 in Pickle Lake and 4 in Ignace.

That’s a drastic drop from the KDSB’s 2018 study, which reported a total of 393 homeless individuals.

In 2021, 88 per cent of residents interviewed by the KDSB identified as Indigenous. About 46 per cent said they were originally from either the Treaty #3, Treaty #5 or Treaty #9 territories.

As well, 76 per cent said they have a substance abuse issue, 49 per cent said they dealt with an ongoing illness or medical condition, 37 per cent have a physical limitation, 26 per cent has a learning or cognitive limitation and 64 per cent said they deal with mental health concerns.

The top three listed income sources for respondents were welfare or social assistance programs, Ontario disability programs and not having any income at all. The majority of respondents said their education level ended in high school.

63 survey takers said they had been to an emergency room within the last year and 33 had been hospitalized. As well, 44 said they had interactions with police, and 23 had been to prison or jail. 11 individuals answered they had interacted with police 11 times in the past year.

There were 34 homeless individuals under the age of 25 surveyed. The vast majority of respondents said they first experienced homelessness before they were 25. As well, there were 80 individuals between 25 and 35, with 88 residents between the ages of 36 and 55. There were a total of 18 people who were above the age of 56, with one person declining to answer.

About 54 per cent of residents identified as male, 42 per cent identified as female, 2 per cent identified as Transgender and 1 per cent declined to answer. For sexual orientation, the KDSB’s report says 82 per cent identified as heterosexual, with 10 per cent identifying as LGBTQ2S+.

The KDSB’s reported number of 221 is the same count as those who self-identified as homeless in the Thunder Bay District Social Services Board’s survey in January, despite a significant difference in population size.

The Thunder Bay district’s population is reported to be 146,000, compared to the roughly 65,000 to 75,000 in the Kenora district. In Thunder Bay’s report, staff said about 68 per cent of respondents self-identified as Indigenous.

Compounding the issue, the KDSB says their housing wait-list has increased by 346 per cent since 2011. Families take up the largest part of the demographic at 39 per cent. Single residents were second on the list at 37 per cent, with seniors making up 14 per cent of the wait list. Special priority placements made up 8 per cent.

90 per cent of 2021’s survey respondents said they want to have permanent housing options. Most respondents said issues getting permanent housing arrangements include low levels of income, rent is too high in the area and addiction issues.

In 2020, the KDSB says they supported 3,021 individuals with 22,044 nightly stays at three regional emergency shelters.

The top reason for residents staying in a shelter was the judicial system, as residents were forced to wait for court dates in other communities, or were recently released from jail or on bail with nowhere to go.

Other reasons include a lack of access to medical services or a recent hospitalization, missed transportation, to escape violence, they were kicked out or had no place to go.

“Through 2021’s findings, it is demonstrated that homelessness is a complex issue with many facets such as trauma, addictions and mental health challenges,” wrote the KDSB, in their report.

“It has also been unequivocally demonstrated that the lack of safe, adequate and affordable housing in the Kenora District’s municipalities produce devastating results in regards to poverty and homelessness.”

The KDSB says the results of this year’s report will help influence future service planning and support the importance and need for affordable housing in the district, as well as to help understand the many issues related to homelessness in the area.

This is the KDSB’s second Homeless Enumeration Report, the first being completed in 2018. The KDSB says they plan to conduct new counts every two years. This year’s report was set to take place in 2020 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board is also planning a public Zoom meeting to discuss the results of this year’s report on March 24 at 6:30 p.m. Members of the public are asked to register HERE.

The KDSB notes their Integrated Social Services team conducted their survey with participants through partnerships with service delivery providers, and residents received $10 gift cards to local business for sharing their stories.

“I want to thank the KDSB team and the 50 some service providers, municipalities, and townships who made the 2021 Homelessness Enumeration come to fruition. We could not have achieved this undertaking without the teamwork and collaboration that took place,” wrote Chief Administrative Officer, Henry Wall.

“We have been able to measure some positive outcomes since the first enumeration in 2018 due to increased housing stock and supportive housing programs across the continuum in some communities, but more work needs to be done,” added Wall.

In 2022, the KDSB also plans to develop the new federally mandated By-Name list. This will list all people known to be experiencing homelessness in the district, which aims to help streamline the process for people experiencing homelessness to access housing and support.