2014 homeless count conducted in Abbotsford

Service providers believe number could rise following Tuesday's count

The Fraser Valley Regional District homeless count was conducted on Tuesday.

The Fraser Valley Regional District homeless count was conducted on Tuesday.

Volunteers fanned out Tuesday in hopes of finding those who are homeless, to obtain more information about who they are and how they live.

Ward Draper, a pastor with 5 and 2 Ministries and a co-ordinator of the survey in Abbotsford, said they “are trying to get a snapshot of what’s happening in the Valley.”

Results will be released later this spring.

The last Fraser Valley Regional District homelessness survey was conducted in 2011, and the data was compiled in a report by Anita van Wyk of the University of the Fraser Valley and Ron van Wyk of the Mennonite Central Committee.

That count found 345 people to be homeless in the Valley. In Abbotsford, 117 people were located.

But the report acknowledged that the number is at best an estimation, and Draper said various factors, including rain and bad weather in 2011, meant the count was skewed.

With Wednesday’s weather clear and warm, he hopes that the number is more accurate – meaning higher – but said it is still difficult to count the homeless in Abbotsford, which has a large geographic area.

It’s also difficult to account for the number of people who are technically homeless, but are staying with friends or couch surfing.

Draper also said that with the many issues that have arisen with homelessness in Abbotsford, some people on the streets have set up camps in highly visible areas, and others have moved farther out to avoid authorities.

The survey asks questions about age and gender, and whether a person is aboriginal, to gather demographic information.

Also important is determining what services Abbotsford’s homeless are accessing.

“The count is important to give us a better understanding of how many folks are there … and if we are making progress and solving some of these issues.”

Finding and surveying the homeless is not an exact science, and some people are only willing to provide the barest information.

While numbers dropped between 2008 and 2011 due to some of the difficulties in data collection, Draper said it wouldn’t be surprising to see the number rise again.

“The core homeless guys are still the same homeless guys I’ve seen for years. If anything, I’ve seen new faces, more women, and a lot more First Nations.”