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B.C. announces provincial homeless counts

Data will be combined with 2017 counts in Metro Vancouver and other regions to develop provincial picture of homelessness
homeless count
Vancouver held its annual homeless count earlier this month. Vision Coun. Andrea Reimer and Rena Kendall-Craden, the city’s director of corporate communications, speak to one of the city's homeless during the 2016 count. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The provincial government is coordinating homeless counts in a dozen communities throughout the province in the coming weeks to help develop a plan focused on permanent housing and services.

“Too many people struggle to find housing in our province,” Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction said in a press release. “It’s a major issue in many communities across B.C., and something we hear repeatedly as we talk to people about how to reduce poverty.”

Homeless counts have already taken place in the Comox Valley and Prince Rupert, the Williams Lake count is scheduled to take place today (March 26). In the coming weeks counts will also take place in Campbell River, Cranbrook, Fort St. John, Merritt, Parksville and Qualicum Beach, Penticton, Port Alberni, Sechelt and Smithers.

The information gathered will be compiled with 2017 counts in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley Regional District, Duncan and Vernon. Combined, the counts will capture about 85 per cent of the population.

“The information we gather, along with what we hear through the Poverty Reduction Strategy consultation, will help us determine what services we need to put in place through the Homeless Action Plan, so that people can access the housing and supports they need,” Simpson said.

The data collected will be used to develop a provincial picture of homelessness and the Homeless Action Plan, which is expected to be released later this year.

Long thought to be an urban issue, over the last few years smaller communities have started to see an increase in the number of homeless people, or people who are at risk of becoming homeless due to increasing housing costs and the lack of affordable housing.

“Good solutions require good data,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “We know that homelessness is a challenge across British Columbia. Last September, when we announced funding for 2,000 units of modular housing for people struggling with homelessness, communities across the province — large and small — jumped at the opportunity to provide homes for those in need. Through these counts, we can get better data on the extent of the challenge in each region, giving us the information we need to plan future housing solutions.”

Vancouver held its annual homeless count earlier this month. Preliminary findings will go before city council in May with the final report coming in June.

Some of the findings in last year’s count, which was collected in a survey from a majority of people counted, included:

-          Indigenous people are overrepresented comprising 39 per cent of Vancouver’s homeless population, yet make up just two per cent of the city’s overall population.

-          People aged 25 to 54 continued to comprise the majority of the homeless population at 68 per cent.

-          Vancouver saw an increase in seniors aged 55 and older, representing 21 per cent of the population. A jump from 17 per cent in the last regional count.

-          Young people aged 24 and under represented 15 per cent of the homeless population.

-          Men represent 76 per cent of the homeless population, with women making up 22 per cent and two per cent identifying as another gender.

-          A total of 68 per cent of Vancouver’s total homeless population were people who were living in the city when they became homeless.

The province in investing $550,000 to fund the homeless counts in the 12 communities, and plans to report on the preliminary results by early summer.

Last fall the federal government announced a $40-billion, 10-year national housing strategy aimed at reducing chronic homelessness by 50 per cent in Canada. In B.C., the province earlier this year announced funding for 2,500 new supportive housing units for people who are homeless, or who could become homeless — that is in addition to the 2,000 modular housing units announced in September.

Mayor Gregor Robertson recently told reporters that the city continues to identify sites for the construction of 600 units of temporary modular housing for homeless people. So far, 78 units spread over two buildings in Marpole have opened.

With files from Mike Howell