Excuse me, where will you be sleeping tonight?

A man passes by the Toronto Homeless Memorial, near the Eaton Centre, which was built to remind people of all those who died as a result of living on the streets. (Rima Ramoul/Toronto Observer)
A man passes by the Toronto Homeless Memorial, near the Eaton Centre, which was built to remind people of all those who died as a result of living on the streets. (Rima Ramoul/Toronto Observer) (rr_sna_040909)

If you get stopped on April 15 and asked if you have a place to spend the night, don’t be offended.

A citywide survey is sending dozens of volunteers out scouring the streets of Scarborough looking for the homeless.

Volunteers for the second Street Needs Assessment (SNA) are instructed to stop anyone that evening, whether they look homeless or not, and ask if they have a place.

The survey is to be carried out at emergency shelters and neighbourhood streets around the city, including Scarborough.

The stereotype of what a homeless person looks like is an issue many participants from the 2006 SNA brought up.

“You cannot tell who is homeless,” one team leader said then. “If we had not spoken to everyone we encountered, we would have missed the one interview we did. We would have overlooked this man because he looked like a university prof on his way to class.”

So far 1,000 volunteers and 300 team leaders are signed up to participate in the 2009 survey, but more volunteers are needed.

Funding decisions

The results of the SNA are intended to help the city decide what services to fund.

Data collected from the 2006 SNA revealed many things, one of which was that Aboriginal people were largely represented among the homeless.

As a result of this finding, 20 per cent of all Federal Homelessness Partnership Initiative funding was invested directly into various Aboriginal organizations, project manager Iain De Jong says.

The City of Toronto website states that the 2006 survey also revealed that one out of 10 homeless people did want permanent housing and help getting it.

They also said that drop-in centers were the top service they used the most. Now the city is working to strengthen that area.

“The purpose of doing the 2009 Street Needs Assessment is to see how the population and needs have changed since 2006,” De Jong says.

A few volunteers on April 15 will also be asked to be part of control groups, to ensure that the data collected is dependable.

People who will take part in the control groups and those acting as team leaders will receive $100. Team leaders need to have specific qualifications, however, as they are required to have a background in social services.

Caring people needed

A team leader who participated in the 2006 SNA said that he was impressed by the number of volunteers who participated.

“Lots of good people still care about doing good work,” the team leader said.

To take part in the second Street Needs Assessment program, call 416-397-5224 or visit toronto.ca/housing. The last day to sign up is April 14.