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Homelessness on the rise in Renfrew County

The county is the largest geographical county in Ontario and is rural in nature with small urban pockets including Petawawa, Pembroke, Renfrew and Arnprior with a population base ranging from 16,000 down to 8,100.

A recent report presented to members of Renfrew County council stated that only 43 people classify themselves as homeless in all of Renfrew County, but the elected officials and municipal staff agreed the total is far less than the actual number of residents seeking shelter.

The report is based on a one-day survey conducted on Sept. 18, 2022 through the county’s community services' department, which has three major responsibilities including managing more than 1,000 social housing units under the umbrella of the Community Housing Department, Ontario Works and Childcare and Early Years.

The survey revealed that some of the leading factors that lead to a person becoming homeless include physical limitations (53 percent); medical condition (44 percent); mental health (40 per cent); substance abuse (33 per cent) and cognitive limitations (19 per cent.)

At first glance, it would seem that 43 individuals who identified as homeless is a small enough number that a viable solution should be within reach. However, the county’s director of community services, Laura Lepine, said the number is actually a large increase over previous years. She said the survey itself did not capture the entire scope of the county dealing with this issue.

“The figures reflect a point in time measuring one day and showed there were 43 people coming forward as homeless,” she said. “The survey was both a point in time reflecting on the specific day and also a standard survey.”

The survey results presented the reasons for homelessness which included: relationship breakdown, evicted, kicked out, other and undisclosed.  

She added the survey relied on people attending service locations, so the data only partially represents homelessness in Renfrew County. The number of people experiencing homelessness is not completely reflected with our survey results. The 43 homeless individuals included people who were unsheltered, emergency sheltered and provisionally accommodated.

The county is the largest geographical county in Ontario and is rural in nature with small urban pockets including Petawawa, Pembroke, Renfrew and Arnprior with a population base ranging from 16,000 down to 8,100.

Scattered throughout the county are smaller population centres including Barry’s Bay, Killaloe, Eganville, Cobden and Beachburg all with a population of less than 1,000. Deep River sits in the middle with just over 4,000.

"We think the numbers are higher," said Renfrew County Warden Peter Emon on Wake Up With Rob Snow on Feb. 27. "Just based on anecdotal information and we have asked for a further report." 

He added that the county has been seeing many types of people recently, and many are just passing through the large geographical area. 

"So there is a temporary shelter system within our community which is utilized," he added. "We also have rent subsidy for folks who have rent coming through and have struggles." 

Past surveys and studies indicate although homelessness affects all population centres in the county, those identifying as homeless tended to migrate to the larger urban pockets with more resources available to assist those without shelter.

The majority of individuals without permanent shelter for more than six months represented 53 per cent of all survey participants. The number of homeless men was 58 per cent, more than double the female number at 28 per cent. Nine percent did not disclose their gender, with two percent non-binary and two percent “other.”

One number that stands out in the survey is high number of youth and Indigenous who define themselves as homeless.

Although the majority of homeless were adults, between 18-64 (65 per cent), those under the age of 18 years was 21 per cent. One in five youth in Renfrew County are homeless and the Indigenous population represents 30 percent of all homeless people in the area.

According to 2016 census statistics, just under 9,000 residents identified themselves as Metis or First Nations. With just over 102,000 residents in the County of Renfrew, those identifying as Indigenous make up less than 10 percent of the total population yet they make up 30 percent considered homeless.

The city of Pembroke is the only community with some type of homeless shelter. It is administered by The Grind, a charitable organization and it has only three short-term beds available. It was opened in December 2022.

Lepine added several of the 43 homeless individuals have enrolled in the ‘ending homelessness initiatives offered through the Community Services Department. County staff do intensive case management with the persons involved to get them connected with agencies which can help.

Listen to the full interview with Warden Peter Emon below: 

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