By Yolande Cole April 17, 2013 - Preliminary results from a 24-hour homeless count conducted on March 13 show 273 people were sleeping on the streets, according to information released today by the office of Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson.
The number of homeless without shelter is down 11 percent from the 306 people counted last year. In 2011, 154 unsheltered homeless were surveyed in the city’s count, which has taken place annually since 2010.
Robertson called the numbers an indicator that “our efforts are working", and said there is more work to do.
“Affordable housing and homelessness is an issue not just for Vancouver, but for all of Metro and the Province,” he stated in a news release. “I urge the provincial parties to outline their plan for preventing and ending homelessness. In a province as wealthy and innovative as BC, there is no excuse for anyone to sleep outside at night.”
According to a memo from city staff sent to Robertson and city councillors, the results from the final shelter count are still pending. There were 1,288 shelter beds available in Vancouver on the night of the count this year. The memo indicates that while the winter response shelters were at capacity, year-round shelters that are not low-barrier “do not always operate at capacity.” In 2012, 1,296 sheltered homeless were surveyed in the 24-hour count, compared to 1,427 in 2011.
Anti-poverty advocate Jean Swanson questioned why information isn’t yet available on the number of people staying in homeless shelters during this year's count.
“A couple weeks ago, I called around to all the shelters in the Downtown Eastside and I said ‘how many beds do you have, and are they full?’ And they told me the answer,” Swanson said in a phone interview.
According to Swanson, there were 618 people in Downtown Eastside shelters on the night that she called, and all the facilities except the Union Gospel Mission were full.
“So we still have a bad situation of homelessness,” argued Swanson. “Just because people are in shelters doesn’t mean they have homes. And I’m afraid that all this emphasis on ending street homelessness…while it’s good that people have shelters instead of being on the streets, it’s undermined the efforts, the public support, for getting more housing—and there’ s a desperate need for more housing.”
According to Robertson’s office, almost 200 units of supportive housing have opened in Vancouver since 2012. Other projects set for the next year include 100 new units of interim housing at the Howard Johnson, low-income housing at the former Ramada Inn on Kingsway, and 260 units at two B.C. Housing projects. About $60 million is slated for affordable and supportive housing in the city’s 2012-2014 capital plan.
This year’s count represents a 66 percent decrease in the number of street homeless since 2008, the year an annual low-barrier winter shelter program was initiated, according to the city.
A full report on the March homeless count, including demographics, will be presented to city council in July.
© 2013 Vancouver Free Press