Long-term homelessness a growing problem in Fredericton: report

Fewer people are staying in homeless shelters in Fredericton, but those who do are staying there longer.

That's one of the findings in the 2016 Progress Report on Homelessness released by the Community Action Group on Homelessness on Monday.

It shows that 195 different people stayed at a homeless shelter in Fredericton in 2016, down from 281 people in 2014.

But the number of people who stay there for 30 days or longer has increased by 51 per cent between 2010 and 2015.

In fact, statistics from the 2016 Homeless Count found that those sleeping outside or in shelters in Fredericton had been homeless for an average of 34.8 months.

"That's something we have to become acutely aware of," said Faith McFarland, co-ordinator of the CAGH. "It isn't really just about the numbers. It really has to do with how long people are trapped in a cycle of homelessness."

It's been nearly two years since the Community Action Group on Homelessness released a multi-year plan to end homelessness.

McFarland said since the release of the plan in 2015, they've made some progress in keeping people off the streets and out of shelters.

"In our community, we organized how we delivered services and how we receive funding to be more aligned so that we'd be able to offer more intensive type of outreach supports that organize themselves around the provision of housing and helping people stay housed," she said. "Since the launch of this report, and even in the last quarter, we doubled the size of our outreach team, we were also able to bring about something called an Emergency Housing Fund, and a Housing Loss Prevention Fund."

McFarland said the Housing First approach to ending homeless, which focuses on moving people into permanent housing and then providing additional supports, is one of the key ways to end chronic and episodic homelessness.

The Supportive Housing Network in Fredericton has helped re-house 138 people since its inception in 2010, including 33 people in 2016.

But finding affordable housing, said McFarland, is one of the biggest hurdles to Housing First.

According to data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a one-bedroom apartment in Fredericton costs 10 per cent more than the provincial average ($687) and the city's vacancy rate is 25 per cent lower (5.5 per cent), creating a tight housing market and limiting options for people living in poverty.

And Statistics Canada says 43 per cent of Fredericton renters are spending more than 30 per cent of their household income on housing, which McFarland said puts them at risk of becoming homeless because of financial reasons.

"In terms of looking at our multi-year plan, the first part is really looking at stabilizing people who've been trapped in the system and on the streets for the longest period of time so that we're better equipped to work upstream on prevention and looking at the entire housing continuum," said McFarland. "A real plan really has to include provision for affordable housing across the entire spectrum and not just for people who are living in chronic and episodic homelessness."

The CAGH wants to end chronic and episodic homeless by 2018-19, and by 2025-26, they want to ensure no one spends more than 10 days on the street or in an emergency shelter before they have access to appropriate, permanent housing and the supports needed to maintain it.