Volunteers fanned out across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows on Wednesday in an attempt to record the amount of homeless people living in both communities.
The event was part of the 2020 Homeless Count in Metro Vancouver that took place over a 24-hour period spanning Tuesday and Wednesday.
More than 1,200 volunteers participated in 17 Metro Vancouver communities with the goal of providing a point-in-time snapshot of people who are experiencing homelessness on any given day in each community.
The count takes place every three years and will estimate the number of people who are experiencing homelessness, provide demographic information to understand who is experiencing homelessness and identify long-term trends to better improve government programs and outreach to those individuals.
The last count happened in 2017.
During that count 124 individuals were counted in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, up from 44 counted in 2005, a 182 per cent increase in people identifying as homeless in the area.
And there was only a 10 per cent population increase during that time, said Ginna Berg, executive director of the Fraser River Indigenous Society, whose group partnered with the Indigenous Homelessness Steering Committee in collaboration with the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association to put on the count.
The count was hosted locally by the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries.
It was also discovered that 57 per cent of people who were surveyed in 2017 reported being homeless for more than one year, but that 60 per cent of people had actually lived in the Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows for more than 10 years, said Berg.
Another important figure that came out of the 2017 study, added Berg, was that overall in Metro Vancouver, 22 per cent of people who identified as homeless had either part-time or full-time work.
“I think this is an important figure because it really gives you the idea of whom we are talking about,” said Berg.
Not only are people counted in the survey but they are also asked if they identify as an Indigenous person and what medical conditions they might have.
Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows had the highest number of people in 2017 who claimed to have all four health conditions, said Berg, including addictions, medical conditions, mental illness and physical disability.
And 26 per cent of the people surveyed identified as being Indigenous or Aboriginal, a very high percentage, said Berg.
“The real purpose of this piece is to get that kind of idea of who is out there and then we can either direct services to support them, and also give us an indication of the work that we have been doing for the last three years. There’s been investments in services, are they making an effect? What is the impact,” asked Berg.
Jill Atkey, CEO of B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, said there is a critical need for government investment into affordable housing in this region.
“But for those investments to matter we need to better understand the paths into homelessness, and the barriers to tackling homelessness for good,” he said, noting that although the point-in-time count will be an under-representation of homelessness in Metro Vancouver, it will still give a good sense of the number and what their needs are.
For the first time during the homeless count, people on the street were offered traditional Indigenous tobacco ties in addition to hard candy and granola bars, as an offering for engagement.
“Each tie has good prayer and good thoughts,” said Berg, adding that the ties open up conversations, especially with Indigenous people.
On Wednesday the Salvation Army hosted an Everyone Counts event from 10 to 6 p.m. to coincide with the homelessness count. They were offering free hair cuts and styles, free pet treats and food, live music and movies, Indigenous cultural activities including medicine pouch making, an opportunity to consult with nurses from Fraser Health, Naloxone training and free food all day.
At Memorial Peace Park they were also serving free food from their food truck from 1 to 5 p.m. and until 9 p.m. STORM was serving coffee.
Results from the Homeless Count won’t be expected to the fall.