Volunteers fanned out across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows last week in an attempt to count how many in both communities are experiencing homelessness.
The 2023 Point-In-Time Homeless Count took place Wednesday, March 8, with the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries serving as the hub for the event, hosting a magnet event to get people who typically use their services to come in that day. The count was led by the Homelessness Services Society of BC.
Volunteers and the coordinators for the homeless count arrived at the Salvation Army at 6 a.m. and they went until 10 p.m., explained Jason Carlaw with the local Salvation Army.
In addition, he noted, the Salvation Army did their own shelter count overnight on Tuesday, March 7, and held a magnet event on the day of the count to try and get as many people into the facility to be counted. The magnet event featured organizations like Fraser Health whose representatives were training participants in how to use Naloxone, free pet food was handed out to those in need, and there was also live entertainment all day long.
Many local groups helped out with the count including the Fraser River Indigenous Society (FRIS), Alouette Addictions, Coast Mental Health, and Homelessness Services Association of BC, (HSABC).
Ginna Berg with FRIS estimated that about 45 people were involved with the count including volunteers, peers and community members, and local agency outreach staff. Each team that went out consisted of at least two people for safety reasons, she said, asking questions like what factors brought that person to experience homelessness and how that person identifies demographically.
“These types of questions lead to results which paint a picture of what people are dealing with and who is represented,” she said.
Katzie First Nation Elder Coleen Pierre opened the day with a welcome song for the volunteers and blessed the food at lunchtime. She was also part of the training component, taking volunteers through how to approach people on the streets and how to ask the questions on the survey.
For example, if a volunteer is not comfortable asking a question, to skip it and go back to the question if or when they are comfortable asking.
One question in particular caught Pierre’s attention about if the person is a residential school survivor.
She advised volunteers to be extremely careful when asking this question, paying attention to the person’s body language – if they close their eyes or put their hands over their temple – then don’t push the question.
More than 1,000 volunteers took to the streets in 11 communities across Greater Vancouver for the homeless count that was led by the Homelessness Services Society of BC.
This year’s count was the first one since the one in March 2020, which took place less than a week before the pandemic began. At that time, local volunteers counted a total of 114 homeless in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows – 35 unsheltered and an additional 79 sheltered. There were 3,634 people experiencing homelessness identified throughout Greater Vancouver.
The count is done to try to gain an understanding of who is living without safe, affordable and appropriate housing in the communities – and the reasons why, explained HSABC’s executive director Stephen D’Souza.
“By having a deeper understanding about individuals’ identities and recognizing that homelessness is a very real part of every community, agencies and all levels of government advance solutions and decisions that are trauma-informed, culturally safe, incorporate harm reduction, are oriented towards social justice and equity, and contribute to decolonization and anti-discrimination because that’s what it takes to end homelessness,” said D’Souza.
David Wells, chair of the Indigenous Homelessness Steering Committee, noted homelessness is a structural problem that affects people in every community and that Indigenous people are continuously underrepresented in homeless counts.
“We are 13 times more likely to experience homelessness compared to our numbers in the general population,” he said.
Also underrepresented in the final tally will be those who are couch surfing or who live in vehicles, or who use other forms of shelter where they are not paying rent.
Final numbers won’t be released until the fall.
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