It’s that time of year again, when the City of Vancouver takes two days to try and count its homeless population.
Yesterday (March 13) was the day to count the city’s sheltered homeless population.
Today, volunteers combed through the 22 neighbourhoods—including, in a big way, the Fairview neighbourhood—to conduct a daytime street count.
How Vancouver “treats” the homeless it counts
In years gone by, Vancouver homeless count volunteers have given a candy and a cigarette to each homeless person they have counted.
This year, enumerees were each given one genuine Werther’s Original caramel-flavoured candy, along with a little hand-tied red cloth baggie containing a bit of coarse tobacco.
Volunteers explained that this tobacco was Indigenous-sourced; that it had been blessed and (if one was further blessed with rolling papers) was sufficient to roll one cigarette.
One homeless person I spoke to took it for shredded cigar tobacco.
I’ve counted more homeless count volunteers this year
In recent years the annual homeless count (which began back in 2002) has made increasingly visible strides outside of the downtown peninsula and Strathcona, to the point that this year—unlike previous years—I probably could not have missed being counted had I tried.
I became homeless back in 2004. And the first of nine consecutive Point-in-Time (PiT) homeless counts in Vancouver that completely overlooked me took place the next year—in 2005. (Note: A Point-in-Time [PiT] count is a kind of numeric snapshot to help quickly determine the extent of homelessness in a community on a given night, or at a single point in time.)
It wasn’t until 2015 that I even saw my first homeless count volunteer. (Before I saw her large yellow homeless count button, the clipboard and bag of candy that she was carrying gave her away.)
She was waiting in front of the Go Green recycling depot in Mount Pleasant. This was a perfect place for her to wait because lots of homeless people collect returnable beverage containers and they all have to go to a recycling depot to cash them in.
Unfortunately, she was gone by the time I finished cashing in my bottles and I saw no other homeless count volunteers that day, so I did not get counted for the 11th year in a row!
I was finally enumerated for the first time two years later during the homeless count of 2017, when I had my first face-to-face encounter with two homeless count volunteers (Brian and Vivian) in the Fairview neighbour, near Oak Street and West Broadway.
Location, location, location!
This year, homeless count volunteers made it even deeper into West Side Vancouver than I’ve ever seen before, appearing early in the morning at the McDonald’s restaurant in the 1400 block of West Broadway, a veritable little hotbed of homelessness.
Two of my homeless friends even complained of being woken up by volunteer teams while it was still dark out. One allowed himself to be counted later in the day but the other grumpily refused to talk to any of the other volunteers who approached him throughout the day.
In total I saw and heard of four, two-person, volunteer teams searching for homeless people in and around the Granville and West Broadway area.
Two of the homeless count volunteers I spoke to confirmed that a total 500 volunteers were being deployed for the street count in short, two hours shifts.
This is a busy time for homeless counting, both in Vancouver and across Canada. In addition to Vancouver’s basic Point-in-Time (PiT) homeless count, which wraps up today, there is documentation indicating that the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association will be conducting a special youth-focused Point-in-Time (PiT) count across all 21 Metro Vancouver municipalities between March and April.
And two days ago (March 12) the Canadian government’s Department of Families, Children and Social Development announced that the second nationally coordinated Point-in-Time (PiT) count of homelessness across Canada (dubbed Everyone Counts) was underway—from March 1 and April 30.
The first-ever attempt at a Canadian homeless count, which took place from January to April, 2016, went ahead without the participation of Canada’s largest cities and was something of dud.
Hopefully the 2018 federal homeless count will be a much more meaningful affair. I expect to have more details on it in the next day, or so.