A count of Langley’s homeless was underway for the first time in three years on Wednesday, to determine if the number of people living without housing is still rising.
In 2017, there were 206 people counted on the streets and in shelters around Langley City and Township.
That was a stark increase from the 92 who had been counted in 2014.
There are 35 volunteers undertaking the count this year, including eight peer volunteers, said Kathy Wall, who was coordinating the effort out of the Langley Vineyard Church.
Peer volunteers are people who were formerly homeless.
“People are more willing to talk to people they know,” Wall said.
Volunteers are seeking not just numbers, but basic data about who the homeless are, looking into the numbers of men and women, seniors, youths, and Indigenous people who can’t find housing.
There are also people with different levels of homelessness, like Christine Johnstone.
“I’m sleeping on a couch,” Johnstone said. “I’ve been homeless three times since 2011.”
Since her son died three and a half years ago, she’s had a couch to sleep on and a roof over her head, but no where to call home.
“I would really like to have my own space, my own privacy,” said the 64-year-old woman. “But I have to be grateful for what I have.”
Homelessness outreach worker Fraser Holland said the scale of the numbers revealed by the last count resulted in a number of changes.
The most dramatic change has been the opening last fall of Creek Stone Place, a supportive housing project that took 49 homeless people off the streets of Langley and gave them stable housing.
But Holland gave a long list of other programs, groups, and initiatives that have been started since 2017 in Langley.
“There’s been some pretty significant service increased and service additions in the last three years,” he said.
There have been new community integration specialist positions, the Intensive Case Management Team started operating, BC Housing is still funding a relief shelter through Gateway of Hope, there is an RCMP Homeless Outreach Team, and Encompass Support Services Society launched their youth centre, among other projects.
Three years ago, there were two to three outreach workers for the homeless and people in precarious housing situations, Holland said. Now there are between 12 and 15 with a number of different agencies and non-profits working in Langley.
The homeless count may not be the only reason those initiatives started, said Holland, but it played an important part in showing the need was real.
It’s difficult to say exactly what the count will show this year, but Holland hopes it will show that the homeless population has at least stabilized.
That would indicate that the service additions of the last few years have begun to make a difference.
This year, the regional count will see 1,200 volunteers taking to the streets of Metro Vancouver, including Langley, to take part in the count.
“Every count that I’ve done has been a little different,” Holland said.
Development changes the landscape for the homeless every year, he said.
One factor this year was the heavy wind and rain the day before the camp, which tends to drive more people into shelters (whose residents were counted the night of Tuesday, March 3) and out of low-lying marshy areas or heavily wooded areas.
In addition, Langley is different from some other Metro Vancouver communities, as local officials do not allow the creation of long-term or large homeless camps.
“They don’t exist in the Langleys,” said Holland.