Metro Vancouver homeless count shows increased number of youth, families

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Metro Vancouver’s homeless population consists of an increased number of youth, families and females, according to a 24-hour count conducted in March 2011.

The final report released today (February 28) on the 2011 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count indicates 56 homeless families, including 54 children, were identified—the highest number to date.

Alice Sundberg, the co-chair of the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness, said the major causes of the rise in homeless families are high rents and family breakdowns.

“Where it’s really coming from is the fact that rents are too high, and people are paying enormous parts of their income on just being housed,” she told the Straight by phone. “So just a little thing like a car breaking down, or somebody getting sick for a couple of weeks, can actually cause you to not be able to afford to pay your rent.

“So it’s those things that are sometimes just a small change in circumstance that can lead to something disastrous like ending up living in your car, or living in shelters, surviving on soup kitchens etc.”

The report also indicates a total of 397 unaccompanied youth under the age of 25 were found, the highest number ever identified in the region, and a nine percent increase from the last regional homeless count in 2008.

“We’re most concerned about the number of youth,” said Sundberg.

“They’re really vulnerable to predators, to getting entrenched and not being able to get out of that. Ideally, we want homelessness, if it’s going to be at all, to be a short period of time, and not to get entrenched in it. So it’s that having the right kind of youth services available.”

Among those services that are needed, according to Sundberg, are safe houses and shelters specifically for youth.

The total number of homeless counted, according to the final report, is virtually unchanged at 2,650, compared to 2,660 in 2008.

Within the homeless population, there was a 74 percent increase in the number of people in emergency shelters and similar facilities, up from 1,086 in 2008 to 1,892 in 2011, and a 52 percent reduction in the amount of unsheltered homeless. People also stayed in emergency homeless shelters for shorter periods of time.

“Outreach workers and shelters are the gateway in a sense, they’re the gateway out of homelessness,” said Sundberg. “Housing, income and supports—those are the critical factors that are going to put an end to homelessness.”

Results from the homeless count also indicate that aboriginal people remained over-represented, comprising 27 percent of the homeless population compared to two percent of the general population.

Low income and high rent were the most frequently cited reasons for continuing homelessness, according to the report, with 58 percent reporting their income was too low, and 54 percent who said their rents were too high.

Sundberg noted that while the number of families have increased, they are not a part of the chronic homeless population, whereas nearly 48 percent of seniors surveyed were considered long-term homeless.

The incidence of multiple health challenges among the homeless has increased significantly, cited by 62 percent of the homeless population. The unsheltered homeless population described difficulties accessing food, with nearly 70 percent indicating they had not had a good meal for two or more days before the count.

According to the report, the 24-hour homeless count is considered to be the minimum number of people who were homeless in the Metro Vancouver region on March 15 and 16.

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And it's full steam ahead with this goverment, "FAMILIES FIRST."
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