The number of people living on the streets in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows dropped for the first time this year after rising steadily since 2005.
Preliminary results of the 2014 Metro Vancouver count on March 12 were released Wednesday, showing 84 homeless in the area, down 38 per cent from 110 in 2011.
Of the 84 counted, 39 were living on the streets, 43 were found in emergency shelters or other facilities and two had no fixed address.
Across Metro Vancouver, the homeless population rose five per cent over the past three years, prompting advocates to declare that the problem has stabilized.
The number of street homeless not found in shelters climbed 26 per cent, to 957, although most of that increase was in the City of Vancouver, where the street homeless count more than tripled to 538.
Almost all other parts of Metro Vancouver mirrored Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, with decreases of street homeless in Surrey, Richmond and Burnaby of 35 to 40 per cent.
“We’ve achieved some stability,” said Deb Bryant, chair of the Greater Vancouver Steering Committee on Homelessness. “We have stemmed the tide of really rapid growth in homelessness.”
She added the count reflects a minimum number of homeless because not all of those on the street or in shelters can be physically counted. A final report is set for release in July.
It’s the fifth 24-hour snapshot of homelessness since the three-year surveys began in 2002.
Maple Ridge’s homeless population had been on an upward trend since 2005, when 44 people were counted. Three years later, in 2008, the population rose to 90 and peaked in 2011 at 110.
The Salvation Army’s Caring Place shelter had predicted the number would drop this year as they’ve seen demand for cold-weather beds reduce.
Others credit Alouette Heights, a 45-unit subsidized housing development that opened in 2012, and Route 29, an initiative for homeless youth, for much of the decrease.
Both programs are run by the Alouette Home Start Society, which also employs an outreach team of two who works with the street homeless.
“These programs definitely contributed to the drop in the homeless population,” said executive director Stephanie Ediger.
In addition to subsidized housing, the Salvation Army, food bank, police, Fraser Health and other groups work together to connect people living on the streets to services.
“The numbers are still way too high,” said Ediger. “We want to get them down to nothing. This doesn’t mean we can slack off, we just have to work harder.”
Ediger believes there’s still a lack of affordable housing in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
Alouette Heights is staffed 24 hours a day by a support worker who helps residents stay focused on their plans for coping with past addictions or mental health illnesses.
Residents can stay up to two years and pay 30 per cent of their income in rent.
However, once residents are ready to leave, they often find it hard to locate a new home they can afford on a minimum-wage job or income assistance.
“If we had more affordable housing, it would make a big difference and help with the homelessness issue,,” said Ediger. “It would also help people who are one pay cheque away from homelessness.”
(including street and sheltered)
– Vancouver: 1,798 (up from 1,581 in 2011)
– Surrey: 403 (up from 400)
– North Shore: 119 (down from 122)
– New Westminster: 104 (down from 132)
– Langley: 92 (down from 103)
– Maple Ridge: 84 (down from 110)
– Tri-Cities: 55 (up from 48)
– Burnaby: 58 (down from 78)
– Richmond: 38 (down from 49)
– Delta/White Rock: 19 (up from 14)