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Bright Spot: Chatham-Kent is getting to the bottom of its chronic homeless numbers

June 17, 2019 - 9:00 pm / Blog

When a partnership between homeless serving agencies, Ontario Works Case Managers and the Chatham-Kent team led to a spike in chronic homeless numbers in November 2018, it wasn’t necessarily cause for alarm. It meant the community was finally getting closer to its true chronic homeless number, putting them on a path for large scale reductions. This blog is a part of our Bright Spot series highlighting outstanding work in ending homelessness happening across Canada. 

When the November 2018 data came in and the chronic homeless population numbers had increased significantly, leaders in Chatham Kent were shocked. Shocked, but not overwhelmed because they knew their data was finally capturing a more complete picture of chronic homelessness. They had found a way to measure the true depth of hidden homelessness in their community and could start focusing on driving reductions.

Chatham-Kent is a Built for Zero Canada community and has had a quality By-Name List since June 2018. Later that year, they refined their data collection and entry processes to include Ontario Works Case Managers. This led to greater awareness of and connection to people experiencing ‘hidden homelessness,’ which led to a spike in the reported number of chronically homeless people.

“We were starting to get dejected, but we sat down and looked at the data,” says Chantal Perry, Manager, Employment and Social Services. “We also had to take a look at the real-life gravity of what it’s like to be a single person on Ontario Works and not have enough money to pay rent—we had to look at some of those ‘on the ground’ realities, knowing we had no ability to change income support rates.”

Fortunately, the Southwestern Ontario community of just over 100,000, saw its local council provide $200,000 in affordable portable housing benefits to the cause. This funding allowed Ontario Works Case Managers to offer portable housing benefits to their homeless clients (from the By-Name List) if they completed assessments using the team’s criteria—streamlining the process and resulting in more people becoming sustainably housed and removed from the BNL.

It also meant the team needed to take another look at its definitions and provide training.

The team brought in Kim Crew, a supervisor with Employment and Social Services, to serve as the lead with the Ontario Works Case Managers. She provided an increased focus on meeting Ontario Works clients’ housing needs through training and support to the case management staff. With this addition, and with a better understanding of their local data, the team decided on three clear ‘Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles’ (PDSAs) that addressed the current BNL, inflow, and outflow. They worked to clarify definitions and training for Case Managers, meet and interview Ontario Works clients currently on the BNL list based on the new definitions, and accelerate the uptake of the Portable Housing Benefits by helping Case Managers triage their clients on the BNL.

Sarah Fraleigh-Bulckaert, Program Evaluator, Employment and Social Services, tracks PDSAs to evaluate improvement in system-wide changes, and specifically how they impact the inflow into homelessness and the outflow from homelessness. “It helped move things along,” Sarah says. “It made us focused and accountable to actions because we review our PDSA data quite frequently.”

And the PDSAs are effectually driving down their chronic homeless numbers.

Every month, Chatham-Kent reviews its By-Name List, seeing who has moved away, found housing or was offered housing. “Every single month we’re looking at those names on the list and matching them to some type of support,” Josh Myers, Employment and Social Services Supervisor and HIFIS Lead says. “In fact, of the 48 people on our BNL right now, 60% are matched to some type of service, support or intervention.”

It comes down to keeping people engaged, reminding them of “why we’re doing it” and sharing success stories, Chantal adds. “We’re continually doing that. We frequently present to Municipal Council with progress updates—when we reach a 50% reduction we’ll certainly make some calls and highlight how this is positive for the people of Chatham-Kent.”

As Chatham-Kent zeroes in on getting to a 50% reduction in its homeless numbers this summer, the team points back to the March Learning Session with Built for Zero Canada (BFZ-C), which really helped them do a deep dive and understand what the data was telling them. The session opened up information sharing opportunities with neighbouring communities that accelerated progress.

A big part of their success, Josh says, is the incredible team—from the BFZ-C community to local staff on the front-line—who come together to solve homelessness. “We all have relentless dedication to this despite barriers and tough days that come up. We get through it by sharing knowledge, resources and ideas.”

The community’s Prosperity Roundtable, a local poverty reduction group, works closely together and is starting to germinate a plan to end poverty in Chatham-Kent once and for all. So far, 140 people—representing a large cross-section of organizations and lived experience—are pooling resources and coming up with innovations to build a community where no one is left behind.

“Ending homelessness, and poverty in general, needs to be a community effort. And the people of Chatham-Kent truly do care, but they don’t always know how to help,” says Chantal. “The more we talk about what we’re doing, the more information we share, the better.”

This blog is a part of our Bright Spot series highlighting outstanding work in ending homelessness happening across Canada. 


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