The homeless population in the Lower Mainland is growing at a rate that is four times faster than the population growth rate itself.
That startling statistic is the latest finding from this year’s Report on Homelessness in the Lower Mainland.
Overall, the the report found overall homelessness across the region rose by 40% since 2011, with 4,211 individuals tallied during the overnight count on March 7 and 8.
Of those, 3,605 were found in Metro Vancouver, with half, or 2,138, located in the City of Vancouver. Comparatively, there were 606 homeless in the Fraser Valley overall.
The increased rate of homelessness across the Lower Mainland is in stark contrast to the overall population of the region, which grew at a rate of between three and 11% from 2011 to 2016.
Surrey, Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Langley also saw significant increases in the number of people living on the street or in shelters.
One third of those surveyed were unsheltered during the count, while 7% stayed in an extreme weather response shelter and 60% were in some other form of shelter.
The report “underscores the dire need for affordable housing and strategies to combat homelessness, which we know extends beyond Metro Vancouver urban centres,” said Greg Moore, Chair of Metro Vancouver. “The underlying root causes of homelessness may be different across the Lower Mainland but it all boils down to one thing: people deserve a safe and affordable place to live.”
The report also combined, compared and contrasted information from 2017 Homeless Counts in the Metro Vancouver Regional District (MVRD) and the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) to examine the diversity and the extent of homelessness throughout the region.
It found that the homeless population in the Fraser Valley is more likely to be young, female and suffering from an addiction, medical condition or mental illness compared with those in Metro Vancouver.
Additionally, in the Fraser Valley, 47% of homeless were more likely to come from that general area and report an addiction (69% vs. 53% in Metro Vancouver), a medical condition (50% vs. 44% ) and a mental illness (48% vs. 38%). They were also more likely to be females or youth under the age of 25.
Conversely, in Metro Vancouver, 33% of the homeless were more likely to come from out of province, with a higher incidence of homeless men and seniors living on the streets or in shelters.
People who identify as Indigenous or Aboriginal were “overrepresented within the homeless population” in both the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver, at 33% and 34%, respectively, while about half the respondents had been homeless for at least one year in both regions.
“The homelessness crisis continues to grow in the Lower Mainland despite all efforts and commitments to stem the tide,” said Mike Clay, Chair of Metro Vancouver’s Housing Committee. “This poses significant costs to local municipalities. Simply responding to demands of a homeless person costs taxpayers $55,000 annually compared with $37,000 per person to house them.”
This year’s report is the first time that Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley communities have jointly planned and implemented a Homeless Count, sharing the data and collaboratively analysing and reporting on it.