Homeless count in Lower Mainland set to happen for first time in 3 years
Teams of volunteers across the Lower Mainland will be conducting the region's first homeless count for the first time in three years this week, collecting details about the experiences and demographics of people who are unhoused.
The annual counts were cancelled in 2021 and 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advocates say they're expecting much higher numbers this year in wake of the pandemic, inflation and the ongoing housing crisis.
Rachael Allen with the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) says its outreach workers have noticed the number of homeless people skyrocketing over the past few years.
Allen, one of the volunteers for the homeless count, says it's about more than just numbers — it's also about gaining an accurate understanding of who is living without housing, the reasons behind it, and what supports are needed.
"Each number tells a story of an individual, a person, who has a unique and complex story," said Allen.
"We count people because people count. Every person has value and we want to make sure they know that they are seen."
The Lower Mainland homeless count, organized by the Homelessness Services Association of B.C. (HSABC), is part of a provincewide tally that will collect data until early May.
In 2020, 2,095 homeless residents were identified in Vancouver and 895 in the Fraser Valley, although the organization warns due to limitations, these counts typically under represent the actual number of people living without homes.
Helping with the count this year are Ed Grift and Shelley Stout, both outreach workers with the UGM in the Fraser Valley.
Almost every day, they pack a van full of food and clothing donations and distribute them to vulnerable people across Langley, Abbotsford and Mission.
Stout says they typically reach between 30 and 65 people each day.
"[There's] no housing, there's just nothing available. And because of the challenges and barriers that they face, it's really hard to find rent spaces available," said Stout.
Grift said they have noticed the number of homeless people in the Fraser Valley increasing and they are seeing new people all the time.
"They're asking us all the time, where do we go? What do we do? And it's hard for us because we just don't have the answers for that," said Grift.
Clay Lauder says he has been unhoused in the Fraser Valley for five years.
"It's a huge challenge. It's taken years away from me," he said.
Lauder says he has noticed the number of homeless people in the Fraser Valley increasing and has seen people as young as 19 or 20 without homes.
"They deserve a shot. They shouldn't have to deal with this kind of thing," he said.
He says the UGM's outreach program has helped him immensely with providing necessities and emotional support.
"I don't know what I'd do without them," he added.
Results typically take several months to compile before they're released to the public. The count seeks to provide communities and government officials with data they need "to make informed, compassionate, and swift decisions that support pathways out of homelessness," according to HSABC.