STRAIT AREA: A housing coalition is hoping a new survey will help attract more development to the region.

“It’s really difficult to get our hands on any good statistical information that will tell us about homelessness and unstable housing in the region,” Richmond Warden Amanda Mombourquette told The Reporter. “We hear, of course, many, many anecdotes because people are struggling to find affordable housing and appropriate housing. But really we need that statistical data, because when we go to government, as an advocacy group trying to change policies, change programs, to encourage government to invest in various ways, or the private sector to invest, it’s very difficult because we don’t have statistical information to support the case we’re trying to make.”

The Strait Richmond Housing Matters Coalition started in December 2018 after a group of citizens interested in housing came together following an October 2018 Community Think Tank – Housing Matters event. The coalition said it is comprised of residents and organizations that represent housing related issues including, community health and social service organizations and municipal representatives, and its vision is inclusive, healthy, affordable, sustainable, and accessible housing is available in Strait Richmond communities.

The coalition said it has joined a team of partners working to learn more about and measure homelessness on Cape Breton and in the eastern mainland of Nova Scotia. It is working with the Mental Health and Addictions Health Promotion team with the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s Eastern Zone, Cape Breton University, and the Affordable Housing and Homelessness Working Group on what it calls a Service Based Homelessness Count.

Principle Investigator Lilla Roy and research Catherine Leviten-Reid, of Cape Breton University, are involved in the study. Roy explained that the Service Based Count takes a “community development approach” by working with community-based organizations.

“It’s a particular type of data collection that focuses on working with service providers who will report back on statistical information of people that they work with who may be either homeless or in an unstable housing situation,” the warden explained.

The coalition said the study will finish up at the end of the month, and they are hoping to have results in hand for analysis by January or February, Mombourquette said.

“So that we can start to formulate what that statistical picture looks like,” said Mombourquette, who is also the coalition’s co-chair. “It will realistically take our research team a couple of months to organize the date into understandable pieces that we can start to use more effectively.”

Although they do not have a specific communications plan about the data, Mombourquette said they will be sharing the numbers.

“There will be a whole initiative to make sure that the date is extremely readily available to the public,” she stated. “We’ll need to submit a final report to our funding partners. At that point, we will definitely be launching this information far and wide to try to track the interest in investment in our region.”

Since 2015, the Affordable Housing and Homelessness Working Group has provided guidance and oversight on a number of research projects and has engaged the community through workshops and presentations on homelessness and affordable housing in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM), the coalition said, noting this count is building on the work done during that time in the CBRM.

“What they found was that it really was a catalyst for getting to that next level of being able to discuss policy changes and make decision on investments,” said Mombourquette. “This time around, it’s a little different what we’re doing because we’re including the whole eastern region, so we’re including parts of Antigonish and Guysborough counties, as well as the whole of Cape Breton Island. But we’ll still be able to break that down by the municipal unit. So it’s a different approach, in terms of the geography, but it’s exciting for us because we’ve got the experience of the team at CBU to really guide us in the process. The reality is that service providers, a lot of them, will span multiple parts of the island or the Strait region so some of these service providers are already familiar with this process.”

With housing and homeless a significant issue, resulting in federal and provincial strategies and programs, the timing of this project has never been more important, the coalition asserts.

“There are definitely public programs that we could be tapping into, but honestly, part of our ability to develop proposals for those types of programs will depend on this type of statistical information,” noted Mombourquette. “Any information that we can provide to private sector developers to help them strengthen their development plans, I think that’s a benefit to everybody. There’s no one silver bullet that’s going to fix our housing crisis in this region or in the province in general, I think it’s going to take the efforts of both the public and private sector to make a dent in this issue. So we’ll definitely be wanting this data to be available to anybody who’s interested in it.”

The coalition added funding for the count was provided by CLARI Community-Engaged Research Grants and the MITACS Business Strategy Internship Program to fund two student researchers.

“We’re really looking forward to getting that data in our hands; we’re hungry for it these days,” added Mombourquette.