The forecast for early next week calls for cold, wet weather — and volunteers will be braving those conditions to count the number of people in the Langleys who don’t have a permanent roof over their heads.
Homeless counts have taken place in Metro Vancouver every three years since 2002, and every year in Vancouver since 2010.
This year’s Metro Vancouver count will take place throughout the region over a 24-hour period between March 7 and 8, and will include a shelter and street component.
According to the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, which is facilitating the event, the count provides “critical information” on the number and characteristics of the region’s homeless population and how this population has changed over time.
Service providers, planners, community groups, health authorities, municipalities and funders use information from the counts to assist in policy development, planning, and prioritizing programs and services to address the needs of people who are homeless.
The 2014 count found 92 homeless people in the Langleys, including 34 sheltered (and one accompanied child), three with no fixed address, and 54 unsheltered homeless.
That was a drop of 11 per cent from 2011, when 103 people in Langley were counted as homeless.
Across Metro Vancouver, a total of 2,777 homeless people were counted the night of March 11 and day of March 12, 2014.
Veteran outreach worker Fraser Holland, with Starting Point, predicts the number of homeless has grown over the past three years.
“We expect the numbers to be higher than 92,” Holland said.
Holland said that while this is not a scientific count, it does provide a solid indicator of roughly how many homeless there are locally, and in each Metro Vancouver community.
“This is what we think is the best way to do this count, but it is a point-in-time snapshot. It doesn’t really catch episodic homeless; who may be housed today (and) may be homeless tomorrow — but we’re not going to catch them, we’re only going to catch what we see today.”
Another challenge is accurately counting the number of youth homeless, who do a lot of “couch surfing” and are “more of a hidden homeless population,” Holland said.
“With that said, it is the best way to get a snapshot idea of what’s going on in a community at any given time,” Holland pointed out.
Holland hopes this year’s count will be more accurate and will have more depth than past ones, noting that for the first time in Langley, it will include the number of homeless in the Township as well as the City.
“It’s always one of those curiosities,” Holland said.
“How many homeless people are there in the Township versus the City?”
Langley City Coun. Gayle Martin co-chaired the former Langley Homelessness Task Force along with fellow City councillor Rudy Storteboom, that had a goal of identifying community-based solutions to address homelessness.
She currently sits on the community council at the Gateway of Hope shelter on the Langley Bypass, and notes that “they’ve had as high as 114 (homeless) in that facility between the shelter, and the emergency shelter, and the cold weather shelter. And several times over the winter they’ve had over a hundred people a night in there.”
Martin said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if this year’s count was double that of 2014.
She said homelessness knows no boundaries, and believes the most effective strategy is for provincial and federal governments to fund supportive housing projects.
“You can have all the task forces you want,” Martin said. “What you need for these people is somewhere for them to live that’s affordable. And I think supportive housing is a start, but certainly the local governments can’t be building supportive housing.”
Volunteers step up
The goal this year is to recruit roughly 1,200 volunteers to help with the count.
Langley has already reached its volunteer quota, according to organizers.
Overall, the association has reached its shelter count volunteer target and has recruited enough volunteers in most communities.
However, potential volunteers can still sign up for the street count in Surrey, New Westminster, Maple Ridge, North Shore, and Delta.
If you are interested in volunteering for a two-hour shift on either Tuesday, March 7 or Wednesday, March 8, click here for information on what is involved and to apply online to volunteer.