SUDBURY -- A new survey from the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) suggests the number of Canadians who have experienced homelessness is higher than what is being reported and Sudbury advocates say they're not surprised by the findings. They are worried things could get worse with COVID-19.

The survey, conducted by Nanos Research, suggests five per cent of Canadians have been homeless, while another 31 per cent know someone who has been homeless.

Gary Newbury founded the Elgin Street Mission in Sudbury more than 31 years ago and says the centre is seeing an increase in the number of people being fed.

"Our numbers are really going up. They fluctuate. When the cheques come in, it goes down, but then it really goes back up again," said Newbury.

In recent weeks, the mission said numbers spike from about 180 to about 250 people a day, depending on the day and the conditions.

"The expenses are so drastic. We get a little help, but now, it's all take-outs, so we have to buy trays and end up using 250 trays a day and it's like thousands of dollars over (the) months. So our expenses have gone up," said Newbury. "When it first started, we had so many supplies because everyone was coming, but, as you can tell now, our supplies are very small."

Bob Johnston and Carrie Wasylyk have been patrolling city streets in the downtown core for the last few months as part of Tomorrow's Hope.

"It's day-by-day getting worse," said Wasylyk. "Now, I'm seeing more involvement. They're coming in groups now. They're not coming one-by-one, they're coming in groups, and we have splash pads around here and how do we mix children with a bunch of homeless people that have nowhere else to go?"

Wasylyk says the numbers of people they're seeing on any given day are too great to count and more help is what's needed to address the issue.

"Brooklyn" used to be homeless and has at least now a fixed address and a roof over his head. He said he bounces around from place-to-place. CTV News agreed not to identify him in advance of the interview.

"There's a lot of places available, but the prices of apartments went up, right? So it's very hard for people to get a place, especially when you're only budgeted to so much," he said.

He said many of his friends are having a tough time to get into the shelters because often they're full and he's worried many will be at risk of hypothermia once the colder weather returns.

Lisa Long is the executive director of The Samaritan Centre in Sudbury. While she understands the concerns that the numbers could get worse due to the pandemic, she said those on the streets aren't worried about COVID-19.

Long says they're worried about food, shelter and safety.

"The statistic that the survey did release was that 72 per cent of Canadians did feel that homelessness was something worth addressing, in terms of federal money. And I think that's a great number, however, my concern is the other 28 per cent. Are they just ambivalent or unaware that homelessness is such a big issue," she said. "I think anytime you can educate someone on what's happening in their respective city, that's a good thing."

"It's a solid case for our country to do something nation-wide around homelessness," said Ray Landry, Sudbury's Homelessness Network Coordinator. "It was especially strong around nation-building if you will - helping the economy while building affordable housing across the country was highly supported by those of different political stripes."

Landry said Greater Sudbury has been dealing with a number of challenges these days, including a lack of apartment space.

The network has put out an urgent appeal to the public, asking all landlords and property owners who have rooms to connect with them so they can discuss a collaboration.

Landry said other than publicly-funded "rent geared to income" Sudbury housing, there is no such thing as affordable housing for the poor.

"We know there is a need for other raise-based incomes or housing supplements to make housing more affordable because we know rents are not getting any lower," he said.

The City of Greater Sudbury released its annual Report Card on Homelessness this week at city council.

While the vacancy rate remains at 2.1 per cent, it found 3,771 households had received subsidized housing during 2019 through the City of Greater Sudbury. Another 1,334 remains on the waitlist as of Dec. 31, 2019.

"We do believe that housing is a right in Greater Sudbury and in our country, so it was nice to see 72 per cent of Canadians supported that and I was happy to see another 84 per cent of Canadians supported affordable housing," said Gail Spencer, the city's coordinator for shelters and homelessness.

Spencer has been working with agency partners to create a coordinated access system. The hope is that if agencies were allowed to share their data, they would be able to get help to those who need it fast.

She's hoping to have it ready by the end of the year.

Greater Sudbury is currently seven years into a 10-year plan to end homelessness. It's also adopting a 'Housing First' strategy.

"I think the key is housing is a basic right and we really as Canadians need to step up and say 'we want to see more affordable housing in our community and we want people to have a safe place to live,'" said Spencer.

To see Greater Sudbury's latest Report Card on Homelessness click here