The total number of homeless people in Vancouver has remained steady from last year, according to the final details released today (October 8) on the 2013 homeless count.
The number of people surveyed during the annual count conducted in March was 1,600, compared to a total of 1,602 in 2012. While the amount of homeless people sleeping on the streets has decreased from 306 last year to 273 this year, the number of people staying in shelters has gone up, from 1,296 in 2012 to 1,327 in the latest count.
Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang said factors contributing to the number of people on the streets and in shelters include the amount of people coming from prisons, hospitals, and the foster-care system who become homeless.
“By setting the very clear goals we have to try to reduce street homelessness, we’ve actually got conversations going on now with the prison system, for example, so B.C. Housing is now setting aside a certain number of beds to make sure folks have a place to go,” Jang told reporters. “Let’s be clear, if we were not doing what we’re doing, there would be hundreds more people living on the streets.”
According to staff, about 60 percent of people using the city and B.C. Housing’s winter shelters during the last five years have moved into housing from the facilities.
“This constitutes almost 500 individuals who have accessed permanent housing directly from our shelter program,” Brenda Prosken, the general manager of community services, told council.
The 2013 homeless count also showed an unusually high number of women sleeping on the streets this year. According to Prosken, 45 women were found outdoors this year. This number, along with recommendations stemming from the B.C. missing women inquiry, has the city and B.C. Housing looking at providing a women-only shelter this year.
Other details in this year’s count include a finding that the homeless population is in worse health. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed reported having an addiction, 46 percent said they have a mental illness, 42 percent a medical condition, and 34 percent a physical disability.
“We see a growing trend of increasingly poorer health in this already vulnerable population,” assistant director of housing policy Abi Bond told council.
While there has been a slight decrease in numbers, aboriginal people also continue to be disproportionately represented, comprising 30 percent of the homeless. And homeless people are still present in areas across the city, not just downtown.
Non-Partisan Association councillor George Affleck argued the average amount of homeless in Vancouver hasn't been reduced over recent years.
“How we deal with it [homelessness] in Vancouver is currently we’re building as many places as possible, yet…we’re not lowering that number,” Affleck told reporters. “In Vancouver, 300 street homeless, 1,500 overall homeless—that’s the consistent number over the last 10 years, and I don’t see it changing unless we see buy-in from across the province, or potentially nationally.”
Affleck also questioned staff on why the city conducts its count in March, when the winter shelters are still open, and why a second survey in the summer months isn’t held. Prosken said the city is following a national standard for the annual springtime count.
The city began conducting annual homeless counts in 2010. That study showed a total of 1,715 homeless people, including 421 on the streets. In 2011, 1,581 homeless people were surveyed, including 154 on the street, and 1,427 in shelters.
The number of homeless people in 2008 was 1,576, including 811 unsheltered, and the total amount in 2005 was 1,364, according to today’s presentation to council.