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'We see the situation getting worse': Advocacy group begins head count of homeless people in Edmonton


A head count will soon help the city get a better picture of how many people are experiencing homelessness in Edmonton.

Homeward Trust Edmonton, a not-for-profit organization working to end homelessness in the city, is doing a head count of homeless people in Edmonton for the first time since 2018.

A street count is normally done every two years, but was canceled due to the pandemic. Wednesday, hundreds of volunteers set out to speak with as many people experiencing homelessness they could find in 24 hours, to collect demographic data and offer help when possible.

Homeward Trust CEO Susan McGee said volunteers won't be able to track down everyone, but it's still the best way to get an accurate snapshot of the current situation.

The overall picture of homeless in the city is a combination of multiple data sources, like shelter use and a daily by-name list used by social agencies. Both of these metrics suggest that this year's count will come back higher than the last.

In 2018, the count showed 2,149 people in Edmonton were experiencing homelessness. Currently, the Edmonton by-name list shows 2,700.

No matter how many people are counted this year, community advocates say it will be too many.

"The numbers are always heartbreakingly large, and yet we see the situation getting worse. So we're out today to remind Edmontonians that one is too many," said Jim Gurnett, a volunteer with the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECHH).

"I've never seen in my lifetime in Edmonton, homelessness or precarious housing be as serious a problem as it is today."

Neil Kennedy, another ECHH volunteer, said it's hard to change your situation when you don't have a place to live.

Kennedy's first experience with homelessness was in 1973 after his father was killed. He was 12 years old, and he said he's been in and out of homelessness before moving into a seniors home three years ago.

Kennedy and Gurnett were out Wednesdayhanding out flyers in Churchill Square to raise awareness on the need for more federal and provincial funding for social housing.

"Homelessness is a really rough life, when you're searching for food or water or even a bathroom," Kennedy said, and added it's hard to get a job without clean clothes or somewhere to have a bath.

"You've got to start with a place to live. You need a home."

In June, Gurnett attended a memorial held for 453 people who died as a result of homelessness, but even that number wasn't enough to spark action, he said, and added that the public can help by putting pressure on provincial and federal governments to increase funding for social housing.

"Maybe this count this time will finally make the point," Gurnett said. "We have to keep trying, because right now people are suffering and dying because of not having the human right to a place to call home."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson Top Stories

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