Thirty volunteers fanned out across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Wednesday to conduct a 24-hour homeless count, performed in Metro Vancouver every three years.
They scoured the bushes looking for camps, checked under highway overpasses and tallied a steady stream of men, women and young people who dropped by the Salvation Army’s Caring Place shelter.
Volunteers also checked the library, bottle depots and the welfare office.
The count is always an under estimate of the actual number of homeless, but provides valuable insight.
“The count is important to us,” said Darrell Pilgrim, director of the Caring Place, which was the base for volunteers. “We want to make sure we are using the resources the best we can. We also feel it’s important to make sure we are providing enough resources.”
Preliminary results will be released in late April, with a final report out in July.
Volunteers in 2011 counted 2,623 homeless in Metro – down slightly from 2008. But many more were found in shelters rather than on the street.
In 2011, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows were the only municipalities in Metro Vancouver where the number of people without a roof over their heads increased.
One hundred and two people were found homeless that March, up from 90 in 2008.
Of the 102 – 40 were housed in emergency shelter facilities, while one person was listed as having no fixed address.
The municipalities were the only place in Metro Vancouver where the number of street homeless also rose – to 61 from 40.
Pilgrim believes the number of street homeless in Maple Ridge has reduced after peaking in 2011. Some have found permanent homes, while others have entered treatment or moved out of the community. The addition of Alouette Heights, a supportive housing building on Brown Avenue, has also helped. That facility has 45 units and residents can stay up to two years.
“For our shelter, we know the number is going to be lower because we have been providing less beds,” said Pilgrim.
The shelter slashed the number of beds it offers in half last year after noticing a dramatic drop in demand.
As a result, the Caring Place will only have 15 cold-wet weather spaces available until the end of March, in addition to the existing 25 beds it has year-round.
“Participation in the Homelessness Count from the aboriginal community throughout Metro Vancouver plays a very important role in the success of the count”, says Patrick Stewart, chair of the aboriginal homelessness steering committee for Metro Vancouver.
“More housing and supports are needed to end homelessness in this region. As of the last count, the aboriginal community was 27 per cent of the homeless in Metro Vancouver, but accounted for only two per cent of the population.”
The Caring Place needs new socks and underwear for men and women. To donate call 604-463-8296.