The number of homeless in Vancouver is holding steady, according to a report received by City Council today outlining the results of the March 27 City of Vancouver count.
The three-year trend shows a downturn in homeless numbers, with a total of 1,602 homeless counted, compared to 1,715 in 2010.
Street homeless numbers went up slightly over 2011, while the number of sheltered homeless decreased. Over the same time period, the number of low-barrier shelter beds decreased.
“The Vancouver 2012 Homeless Count confirms that we’ve made strong progress in the last four years to tackle homelessness and that our low-barrier shelters have been incredibly effective, but much work remains to confront the challenge,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “This year’s count shows that street homelessness is down 62 per cent since 2008 and that overall homelessness is down 6.6 per cent overall since 2010, when we finally turned the corner on a decade of rising homelessness in Vancouver.
“The count demonstrates the need for stronger partnerships with other orders of government. To build on our progress and prevent an alarmingly higher number of Vancouver’s homeless citizens from being forced to sleep on the street we need significantly more provincial support for stable low-barrier shelter beds and permanent supportive housing.”
Dr. Michael Krausz, MD, PhD, FRCPC, Professor of Psychiatry, UBC and UBC Providence Leadership Chair for Addiction Research, also spoke to Council to outline the results of his survey on the health of the homeless in British Columbia.
Dr. Krausz found that 85 per cent of the province’s homeless reported moderate to severe emotional, physical or sexual abuse in their childhood. Ninety-three per cent have a current mental disorder and 83 per cent exhibited a substance abuse disorder.
“Our study shows that the majority of homeless people experience some kind of trauma during childhood. Given that, it is really important to start discussing earlier interventions to cope with mental health challenges,” said Dr. Krausz. “We should try to prevent homelessness through better, earlier low-barrier access to quality mental health and addiction care.”
The homeless count found that three-quarters of the homeless are men and one-third identified as Aboriginal. The largest age group of unsheltered homeless is getting older, with 42 per cent over the age of 45.
“There is still a need for permanent shelter beds, transitional units and permanent affordable housing units with operating dollars and supports for the Aboriginal community in this City,” said Patrick Stewart, Chair of the Aboriginal Homelessness Steering Committee. “The Aboriginal people who are homeless or living at risk of homelessness make up a disproportionate percentage of the homeless in Vancouver.”
A regional homeless count is conducted every three years. The City of Vancouver started annual counts in 2010. Volunteers visit shelters and locations in the community such as parks and drop-in centres and briefly interview homeless people regarding their age, background, general health and where they slept the previous night.
The City of Vancouver is committed to ending street homelessness by 2015. The 2011 Housing and Homelessness Strategy outlines the steps needed to address street homelessness and to increase the variety of affordable housing options within the city.
The 2012 homeless count report can be found at http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20120529/documents/rr1presentation.pdf
Dr. Krausz’s study, British Columbia Health of the Homeless Survey, can be found here: www.cheos.ubc.ca