Homelessness across Metro Vancouver is on the rise according to the preliminary report for the 2017 Homeless Count, but it’s rising fastest in Delta and White Rock.
From 2014, Delta and White Rock (which are coupled in the preliminary data) have seen a 142 per cent increase in homelessness. Although that is only an increase of 27 people, it is a substantial amount for an area lacking in services for homeless people.
More that 90 per cent of the combined total were found in Delta, said area coordinator Barbara Westlake. Those numbers represent a more comprehensive overview of homelessness in Delta.
In the past, certain parts of the homeless population were excluded from the count. This year, people living in derelict boats on the river, for example, were included in the count for the first time. There were also new collaborations that made it easier to identify the hidden homeless, such as the partnership between the Homeless Count, the Delta School District and the Boys and Girls Club.
“[They] helped us…capture the kids,” Westlake said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t know who’s couch surfing.”
Delta/White Rock volunteers counted 10 homeless youth during the survey, all of them in Delta. Westlake said there were also at least seven more they couldn’t capture on the day of the count.
“To me, that’s showing our numbers are way bigger than what we know,” she said.
According to Westlake, the average age of the youth who were counted was 16, and many of them were still going to school.
In 2014, the last time the Metro Vancouver Homeless Count was conducted, there were no homeless youth — at least, none they could capture.
Another unusual aspect of this year’s Homeless Count was the high number of sheltered homeless. In Delta and White Rock, there were 23, compared to 14 in 2014.
(Although Delta has no shelters of its own, the count allows individuals to identify as being from a particular area, even if they live in a shelter somewhere else.)
The high amount of sheltered homeless was likely because of the extreme weather response shelters that opened across Metro Vancouver. Many people who would have ordinarily been counted as unsheltered homeless were included in the sheltered count.
The Homeless Count is always an undercount, and is intended to represent the minimum number of homeless in an area.
“We know we missed at least four [in North Delta],” Westlake said. “They’re in cars, they sleep in their cars. But we couldn’t find their cars.
“We knew exactly what we were looking for; we actually knew who we were looking for. We just couldn’t find them.” Delta’s corporate social planner Gillian McLeod said the count could be as low as one third of the total homeless population.
Although the Homeless Count isn’t representative of the homeless population in Delta, McLeod said it helps increase the municipality’s knowledge about what its residents need. “As we increase our knowledge about the needs in Delta, we’ll be able to increase the development of solutions,” she said.