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Square One successfully co-ordinates city's first homelessness count

Square One Community, Inc. successfully co-ordinated Moose Jaw's first Point-in-Time (PIT) count of individuals experiencing homelessness on Aug. 26 following months of difficult preparation by volunteer PIT count co-ordinator Desiree Lalonde
(left) Community volunteers, without whom the survey could not be done; (right) Square One PIT count co-ordinator Desiree Lalonde

Square One Community, Inc. successfully co-ordinated Moose Jaw's first Point-in-Time (PIT) count of individuals experiencing homelessness on Aug. 26 following months of difficult preparation by volunteer PIT count co-ordinator Desiree Lalonde, with the help of dozens of community volunteers.

Approximately 55 safety-vest-clad, clip-board-brandishing persons patrolled the city's sidewalks and service alleys on Saturday. Volunteers carried out a carefully controlled and regulated street survey, collecting information specified by federal researchers as part of a national program.

In addition to the volunteers, stations were set up at St. Aidan Anglican Church, which co-ordinates a weekend lunch program for community members who are food-insecure, and at the Moose Jaw Public Library.

"I wanted to try and reduce barriers (by setting up those stations)," Lalonde explained. "I feel it allows those persons an opportunity to have a say and seek us out, giving them a choice and a voice. I also felt it potentially increases safety for them and us, and hopefully reduces trauma, or feeling imposed on, while increasing the awareness that we want to help.

"I hope (the PIT count was) a positive experience for everyone."

It took around four or five hours to complete the count. Lalonde had, with help from qualified researchers, also modified the survey slightly to try and reach more of the "hidden homeless" — individuals who have only temporary or unsafe accommodations, who are couch-surfing with family or friends. At the request of the Saskatchewan SPCA, three survey questions asked respondents about whether they had pets, if their pets were a barrier to housing, and whether they had ever had to give up their pets to secure safe shelter. 

Another, separate survey was targeted at community members who are not homeless or at risk. Those results will give Square One valuable information about the general level of awareness of homelessness in the city.

Survey respondents who reported housing insecurity were given an honorarium gift including information about the pet food bank, a sheet detailing meal and shelter options in Moose Jaw, and a naloxone kit.

By completing the PIT count, Moose Jaw joins more than 60 other Canadians communities who participate in the program. Moose Jaw is the fourth Saskatchewan city to organize a PIT count, following Saskatoon, Regina, and Prince Albert. 

To realize the PIT count goal, Lalonde learned about surveying, including how the questions are developed and why demographic information is important, developed a volunteer training session, recruited volunteers, created a plan to meet the strict standards of the national effort, and much more.

"It's definitely not meant for one person to handle," Lalonde said, "but with the hurdles I had getting our account and so on, and Square One's need for this data, I didn't want to see any more delays. It was such a short period of time to try and get other help.

"I am so grateful for those who have been able to help, no matter how big or small."

Following the count, Square One issued a notice on their Facebook page thanking Lalonde and the 55 volunteers and four board members who participated. Square One board chair Della Ferguson had noted to volunteers that without the data from the PIT count, the organization will likely be unable to open its long-hoped-for warming/cooling space and dedicated women's shelter at William Milne Place.

"We are overwhelmed with gratitude as we extend our appreciation to the incredible individuals who made our first Point in Time (PiT) Count an outstanding success," Square One said.

Once the data is processed, PIT count information will be publicly available. Such data is incredibly valuable not only to community-based organizations like Square One, but to municipal, provincial, and federal government, local emergency service providers, and academic researchers.

Learn more about PIT counts and homelessness at the following resources:

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