Across Waterloo Region, there are 339 people experiencing persistent homelessness.

About 145 of those people are at what officials consider the highest level of vulnerability, and the same officials hope about 40 of them can be moved into housing by the end of the winter.

Those are some of the findings released Wednesday following the region’s count of the local homeless population.

“We’re going to use this information to help folks understand the level of need and the types of services that we need in our community,” said Marie Morrison, the region’s manager of community homeless prevention.

Earlier this fall, more than 60 volunteers canvassed the region’s homeless community to learn as much as they could about its inhabitants.

They looked at factors such as mental and physical health, length of time homeless, and prior involvement with the criminal justice system.

While some of the findings weren’t surprising, even Morrison – who knows the community well – admitted to some unexpected data.

“I was surprised … at the really high numbers of mental health and addiction issues,” she said.

Using grant money from the provincial and federal governments, the region hopes to find homes for 40 people in the near future, focusing on the most vulnerable.

“It just doesn’t mean ‘put someone somewhere.’ It needs to be adequate, it needs to be safe and it needs to be affordable,” said Sarah Escobar, an outreach worker at The Working Centre.

“I think we should all want that for our neighbours.”

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Two-thirds of Waterloo Region’s homeless population is male
  • The majority have been homeless for more than three years
  • 85 per cent have mental health issues
  • Nearly 20 per cent attended college or university