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Church counts ‘hidden homeless’ in Belleville, Ont.

Bridge Street United has found a new way to address homelessness in its city.

By Kate Spencer

Bridge Street United in Belleville, Ont., is conducting a survey to count the area’s homeless population. Previously, Ontario’s Hastings County used data from the Canadian Red Cross. This new survey will be broader, by including the “hidden homeless” — people who have temporary accommodations but no guarantee of continued residency or prospects for permanent housing.

It’s a pressing issue: last August, the Poverty Roundtable of Hastings and Prince Edward counties declared a housing crisis in the area. Having an accurate count can improve a community’s response to the issue, by informing service delivery and policy development. It also provides a baseline for measuring progress.

For more than 20 years, Bridge Street United’s food ministry has helped feed Belleville’s food-insecure population. Last year, it served 14,500 meals. Conducting the survey was a natural progression, says Steven van de Hoef, the food ministry’s staff  co-ordinator.

“[Our church] combines direct charitable action, such as serving meals, with attention and advocacy to address the systemic causes of poverty, food insecurity and homelessness” he says.

The church was responsible for all aspects of planning and implementing the Homelessness in Belleville survey, which was funded by Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy program. Data collection was completed in January, and results will be ready to share in the coming months.

As a next step, the church is working with the Community Development Council of Quinte to conduct a broader survey in April.

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