The number of homeless sleeping on Vancouver’s streets has increased by 384 people in the last three years, according to preliminary results released today from the latest regional homeless count.
The Metro Vancouver count, conducted during a 24-hour period on March 12, identified a total of 2,770 homeless people across the region, including 957 who were sleeping outside, couch surfing, or using homelessness services.
The largest chunk of the unsheltered homeless population is in the city of Vancouver, where the amount rose by 249 percent since the last regional count in 2011, to 538 people this year. A local count conducted in 2013 showed 273 unsheltered homeless.
Mayor Gregor Robertson called the increase “very frustrating news” and cited factors including delays in new supportive housing units as contributing to the rising number of homeless.
Robertson maintained that Vancouver can still end street homelessness by 2015, a pledge he made when first elected in 2008, but stated the city will need more support from seniors levels of government. That includes a “bigger commitment to low-barrier shelters” for next winter, reinstated funding for the At Home/Chez Soi project, and more funding for social housing, he said.
“If there’s a concerted effort and we see some additional investment from the B.C. government, federal government—that’s where we need more help,” he stated.
“We’ve come a long way, but there’s another leap that needs to be made, and as a city we’ll be right there.”
This year’s count also showed an increase in the number of aboriginal homeless people in Metro Vancouver, from 394 in 2011 to 582 this year. Aboriginal people represent 31 percent of the total homeless population, compared to 27 percent in 2011.
Patrick Stewart, the chair of the Aboriginal Homelessness Steering Committee, said he was very disappointed to see the numbers increase.
“I’m no politician, but in a country as rich as Canada, there’s no need to have anyone living on the street,” he said. “To me this points to a failure of senior levels of government to adequately ensure citizens have a decent standard of living.”
The number of homeless youth surveyed as part of the regional count increased by three percent to 410 people, and the amount of homeless seniors in Metro Vancouver rose by 38 percent.
The tally of people sleeping in shelters in the region decreased by four percent since the last count, from 1,892 in 2011 to 1,813 this year. Most of the sheltered homeless were found in Vancouver, where 1,260 people were counted.
The only other sub-region in Metro Vancouver that showed a rise in the number of unsheltered homeless is the North Shore, which saw a nine percent increase. The count results indicate that the amount of street homeless decreased by 39 percent in Surrey, 35 percent in Richmond, and 62 percent in Delta and White Rock.
Deb Bryant, the chair of the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness, noted that the study under-represents the actual number of homeless people in the region, but that it gives a “snapshot” of the population.
“That is on the one hand good news compared to years before, but it’s frustrating to see how entrenched this problem is,” she said in an interview.
The Carnegie Community Action Project described the high number of homeless people identified in the Vancouver count as disappointing, but not surprising.
“The City has not taken action to protect low-income housing, the province has failed to build the social housing we desperately need and the federal government has all but divested from low-income housing,” organizer King-mong Chan claimed in a news release.
A more detailed analysis of the 2014 Metro Vancouver count will be released in July, including information such as health issues faced by homeless people and barriers to ending homelessness.