Survey criticized

Shelter workers question accuracy of city-run survey

People surveyed were given a bag of goods by volunteers.
People surveyed were given a bag of goods by volunteers.
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Kingston shelter workers are criticizing the methodology of a city-run homelessness survey administered Wednesday night.

The survey, which was organized by United Way Kingston and the City of Kingston’s Housing Department, was administered to gather data on homeless demographics in the city, concentrating on the downtown areas.

The City plans to use the data collected to direct their plans for housing as well as the development of social programs.

Volunteers consisting of United Way members, shelter workers, Queen’s students and members of the Kingston community were assigned different areas to survey.

The areas were categorized as low, medium or high-risk areas depending on safety risks to volunteers.

Those who completed the survey were given a bag containing a Tim Hortons gift card, a granola bar, chapstick, a bus pass, a juice box as well as contact information for the United Way.

Dave McQueen, a frontline hospital support worker at Ryandale Shelter for the Homeless, volunteered in a zone covering Princess St. down to Bagot St.

McQueen said he felt uncomfortable asking some of the questions listed in the survey.

“Some of the questions were a little intrusive like, ‘have you been in trouble with the law, have you seen a therapist, [are] there issues with past abuse,’” he said, adding that he thought the survey would have been more successful if conducted in the afternoon.

“[Afternoon] is when the majority of those who use the shelter system are actually out. So you have a better opportunity of running into them,” he said.

McQueen said he also questioned the accuracy of the survey, given that welfare cheques had been administered earlier in the month — leading people to seek shelter in motels rather than on the street. A man named John, who identified himself to the Journal as homeless veteran, said he refused to be surveyed when approached.

“[The survey] set off my post-traumatic stress disorder.

It made me uncomfortable walking around the town because someone you don’t know is going to ask the person [me] questions that were on there,” he said.

John said the leaders of a mental health support group he attends had warned him not to participate.

He would not specify the exact group.

He said surveyors were looking in the wrong places to find homeless individuals.

“They wanted people on Princess St., and there’s hardly any homeless people that go near Princess St.,” John said.

He said that volunteers could have tried a more friendly approach.

“It was out in the open. If you’re going to talk to a homeless person, the first thing you do is put a roof over their head and give them a cup of coffee or a warm drink to make them feel comfortable,” he said.

Christine, who declined to give her last name, didn’t think the survey’s methodology was problematic. The lead counselor at Dawn House Women’s Shelter, Christine said she personally administered the survey to women at the shelter.

“The women were great and they were totally comfortable with all of the questions,” she said, adding that the survey will be useful to the City to plan for the future.

“It will prove a need and assist the City or the powers that be in deciding where the focus needs to be in terms of housing the homeless, and where the gaps are,” she said.

“As shelter workers I think that we can address all of the issues that people come with, but sometimes there’s just not enough resources out there.”

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