Despite an increase in provincial government funding to combat homelessness – in 2009, $14 million was allocated over three years for preventative measures – the numbers of homeless people are on the rise in Quebec.
Despite these reports, neither the provincial nor federal government is able to provide a reliable estimate for the number of homeless people in Quebec.
According to François Saillant, a spokesperson for le Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU), the question of quantifying homelessness is fraught with political difficulties.
“It could potentially be done to marginalize the homeless. It’s been done in the past,” Saillant explained.
Estimating the size of the homeless population is important because the number can affect the amount of government funding allocated for social services.
There have been several attempts by the federal government to determine the number of homeless people in Canada. However, many social organizations have criticized these studies as being too conservative, and some are questioning the necessity of quantifying the homeless population at all.
According to Maude Ménard-Dunn, a community organizer for the Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM), the money that goes towards these studies would be better spent elsewhere. RAPSIM bills itself as an umbrella organization for homeless shelters in Montreal.
“We are not opposed to a census for the homeless,” Ménard-Dunn said. “However, we believe that there is more of a need for social services.”
Most studies are conducted by calculating the number of individuals who make use of homeless shelters.
However, these numbers do not account for those who do not utilize these services.
“It’s obvious that not every homeless person will use these resources,” Ménard-Dunn explained. “They are people who do not use these resources and are still on the street. There is also the people who couch surf.”
Couch surfing is a form of homelessness in which an individual sleeps in different peoples’ homes rather than utilizing shelter services.
“This phenomenon mainly affects women,” she said. “They’ll offer sexual favors in exchange for a place to sleep.”
The definition of homelessness is also of significant importance.
Various organizations classify homelessness in different ways. For instance, unlike governmental definitions, the Fédération de ressources d’hébergement pour femmes violentées et en difficulté du Québec considers victims of family violence to be homeless.
A 2006 study commissioned by the Centre Nationale sur la violence familiale, found that when abused women were not recognized as homeless, the capacity to improve their situation “would be severely diminished.”
Meanwhile, the demand for homeless services in Montreal continues to rise. While there is no hard data, according to RAPSIM, the services are overwhelmed.
“We are talking about thousands of people who are turned away from shelters due to lack of space,” Ménard-Dunn explained.
“We are asking for a national policy on homelessness. There needs to be a real vision for the government. We need to know where we will be in 10 years,” she said.