A study for the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness led by a Simon Fraser University master’s student has found that a disproportionate number of people chronically staying in Victoria’s emergency shelters are seniors.
Hannah Rabinovitch conducted the longitudinal study on emergency shelter use patterns in Victoria under the MITACS Accelerate Program, in partnership with the Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria. The SFU public policy master’s student examined data collected between April 2010 and May 2014.
The study tracked 4,332 individuals and examined nearly 46,000 shelter records. More than 85 percent of users accessed shelters for short periods, meaning only once or twice – findings that point to the need for affordable housing and preventative measures, according to the study.
Another 13.6 percent accessed the shelters five times over the four years with average stays of 30 days. The remaining 1.5 percent, many of them seniors, had stayed four to five times with average stays of six months.
As a former emergency shelter worker in Victoria, Rabinovitch, now a Vancouver resident, said she finds these results worrisome but not shocking. “I was stunned by the number of seniors with complex physical and mental health problems regularly seeking refuge in emergency shelters. I kept thinking emergency shelters aren’t supposed to become discharge plans for hospitals that aren’t equipped to keep them long term.”
She said the data also indicates that “women and youth are underrepresented in this study,” meaning their numbers don’t reflect the extent to which they are homeless. “For example, it’s widely known in research that homeless women avoid emergency shelters for fear they’re unsafe and that their children will be apprehended, and because they lack women’s beds.”
Rabinovitch conducted the study under the supervision of Bernie Pauly, a scientist at UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research and associate professor in UVic’s School of Nursing, and Doug McArthur, a professor and director of SFU’s public policy program.
Pauly said it’s important to maintain strategies that address the needs of different groups and make efficient use of resources. “Those experiencing temporary homelessness would benefit from rapid re-housing, more emergency cash assistance and rental subsidies to prevent or quickly address homelessness. Those with re-occurring episodes of homelessness would benefit from programs that combine intensive supports with housing.”