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‘Bad’ data harming efforts to deal with homelessness in Victoria: researcher

Study looked at Victoria and other major Canadian cities
A tent city. (Photo by Morf Morford)

By Ella Matte, contributor

An expert on the issue of homelessness told a Victoria forum of her skepticism about previous research on the issue.

Dr. Cheryl Forchuk from London, Ont. has conducted a nationwide study on homelessness. She presented the results Thursday to a forum, saying she was motivated to research the issue because previous data missed certain demographics, perhaps due to hidden homelessness and other factors.

“Does anyone believe that we have 235,000 people across the entire country and in an entire year experiencing homelessness,” Forchuk asked the crowd, saying that number seems way too low.

“One of the problems we kept having when coming up with solutions was how bad the data was. We have a project related to homeless veterans just outside of Victoria Copper house. We would have very good results, but did we really make an impact when you don’t actually have a baseline?”

Forchuk is the assistant scientific director at the Lawson Health Institute for the research arm of London, Ont. hospitals. She looked at a number of cities and towns across Canada all the way from Toronto to Victoria, including rural and remote communities.

The breakdown of the methods was to first interview individuals experiencing homelessness, next to look over existing data and to integrate the new-found data, and then to create a dialogue that helps individuals to talk about homelessness. Now she is taking the data and presenting it across Canada to educate people.

Speaking to different demographic niches, an insightful experience she had was for the homeless veteran project contrasted with youth.

“We were also working with homeless youth and what they suggest was actually completely opposite of each other,” Forchuk said.

“The veterans tend to be very educated and they were having difficulty adjusting to normal life and the lack of structure. They talked about programs and wanting a lot of structure. They avoid shelters because they found them too ‘loosey goosey, no rules.’ The youth were avoiding shelters because there were too many rules and quite the opposite. They were dealing with educational problems. They were having difficulty with getting employment because they had not completed their education. You just can’t have a generic service where everyone would equally benefit.”

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