A snapshot of homelessness

Last week the preliminary numbers were released from the Metro Vancouver Homeless Count 2011, and if you haven’t already heard there were a number of surprises. For the first time since the count began in 2002 there was a decrease, albeit a small one, in the overall numbers (1%) and a big decrease in unsheltered homeless (54%), but an increase in homeless youth (almost 30%). Our Associate Director Sean Spear spoke on CBC’s BC Almanac about the count and what we experience at RainCity.

So why the changes? Well, the easy part to explain is there were just more spaces inside than during the last count. For the last three years RainCity Housing has provided temporary shelters in three different neighbourhoods intentionally outside Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in order to address the homeless populations in those neighbourhoods and with much success. Hundreds of the individuals staying at these shelters went on to find permanent housing. Many people were coming inside for the first time in years.

The majority of the people staying at our shelter near Granville Street were under 30, and many of those were even younger. The count is getting more sophisticated in terms of connecting with youth, but we are also seeing more people under25 accessing our services and housing, and feeling more comfortable doing so, and therefore more visible for the count.

And the small decrease in over homeless numbers? The City and the Province have been actively creating purpose built housing throughout Vancouver, with about 1500 units completed and over another 1000 coming online over the next 2 to 3 years. Our Housing First ACT Team and the rest of the At Home/Chez Soi program provides subsidies for 200 people so they can afford to live anywhere in the city, not just the Downtown Eastside. The fact that the number hasn’t increased is an amazing sign, as the overall population has increased by 8% since the last count, and the counts done in 2005 and 2008 found large increases in the homeless population (thanks, Frances!).

But it’s important to remember that:

  • Researchers say the actual numbers can be up to three times as high as the snapshot 24 hour count, due to people staying with relatives, couch surfing or just really hard to find.
  • Women are still the invisible homeless, where the actual numbers aren’t accurate as there are still many barriers.
  • The transgender community is over represented in homeless populations.

Can we collectively pat ourselves on the back? Yes. Nonprofits, the City and the Province, and organizations like Streetohome have made huge steps the right direction. But there’s still a lot more work to be done. Not only is more affordable and supported housing still needed, as a society we need to look at why homelessness is an issue and continue to find solutions until the day there really is a home for every person.

Tell what you think a solution to end homelessness could be.

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