The city of Montreal has released the results of its census of the homeless population, and it appears there are far fewer homeless people in the city than was once thought.

The last time such an assessment was conducted in Montreal was in the 1990s, when it was concluded that about 30,000 homeless people lived in Montreal. But on the night of March 24, 3,016 people were found to be homeless.

More than 700 volunteers made the rounds of Montreal streets for three nights in March. The concept mirrors similar counts already done in other cities – the volunteers set out to list as many people as possible with no fixed address. But they also went to day centres and contacted hospitals to make sure the hidden homeless, those who have temporary places to stay but nothing permanent for the foreseeable future, were included in the data.

Other statistics gleaned from the census:

  • Montreal has fewer homeless people per 10,000 residents than Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto, but more people spend the night outside in Montreal than in Toronto and Calgary (again, per 10,000 residents);
  • A quarter of those counted had been homeless for four years or more, dubbed the "chronic" homeless, whereas half were characterized as being "episodically" homeless, having had at least two bouts of homelessness in the past three years;
  • Men make up 76 per cent of homeless people and 93 per cent of homeless people who live outdoors;
  • Forty-four per cent of Montreal's homeless people were born in Montreal;
  • Immigrants make up 10 per cent of the homeless population, but 33 per cent of the total population of Montreal;
  • Aboriginals make up 0.56 per cent of the Montreal population, but 10 per cent of the city’s homeless population. Inuit people account for 40 per cent of homeless aboriginals.

Eric Latimer, a researcher at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, said the statistic he found particularly interesting was that while the total number of homeless in Montreal is fairly low per capita compared to Toronto and Calgary, the number of people sleeping outside here is higher than it is in those two cities.

“Toronto and Calgary happen to be two cities where there’s been a fair amount of effort to find people on the streets and get them out of homelessness, actually house them. Montreal has not had, so far, that kind of effort to find those individuals,” he said. Latimer added that though those people may be harder to find here, but Montreal can also do things differently in order to help that population.

Mayor Denis Coderre said it's important that hard data now exists, which he says will help policymakers adjust to the issues and address them more effectively. He said though it's important all levels of government work together to find solutions to issues such as social housing, municipal governments have important parts to play.

“I think what we’re realizing is that more and more, the best way to find solutions about homelessness, no matter what city you’re from, is to have a city agenda," he said.

The hope is that the census will be done every two years and appoint an auditor for the homeless population who would look at the measures currently in place and make recommendations on how to improve services.