About 9,000 people are homeless across British Columbia: government

Mar 16 2022, 11:47 pm

The provincial government has issued its second report, made every two years, that compiles homeless count data in communities across British Columbia.

The newly released report indicates there were 8,665 people experiencing homelessness, based on 16 homeless counts funded by the provincial government, six homeless counts funded by the federal government, and three independent homeless counts, as well as data from shelters and facilities funded by BC Housing. However, the counts across 25 communities were conducted at varying periods, spanning between Spring 2020 and Spring 2021.

As expected, the largest clusters were in the major urban centres, with 3,634 individuals in Metro Vancouver, 1,008 in Greater Victoria, 895 in the Fraser Valley, 406 in Nanaimo, and 297 in Kelowna.

At the time of the counts, six-in-10 people (62%) were sheltered — including people staying in homeless shelters, or hospitals, jails, and detox facilities — and four-in-10 individuals were unsheltered, such as situations where they stayed outside, in a vehicle, or temporarily in someone else’s home.

The majority of individuals experiencing homelessness were male, with 68% identifying as men, followed by 30% as women, 3% as transgender, and 2% self-identified as another gender identity.

One-in-five individuals (21%) were seniors, 55 years and older, while one-in-10 (11%) were youth, under 25 years of age.

The counts also saw 39% of their respondents identify as Indigenous, even though Indigenous people represent just 6% of the province’s total population.

bc homeless count

Homeless counts in communities across British Columbia, 2020/2021. (Government of BC)

Nearly two-thirds (62%) of count respondents noted they had been without a place of their own for at least one year, and nearly half (46%) indicated they were under 25 years of age the first time they experienced homelessness.

Based on those who responded to the survey question, 32% (1,552 individuals) lived in another BC community beforehand, while 24% (1,149 individuals) were from another part of Canada. As well, 28% (1,114 individuals) said they always lived in the community where they were counted, and 18% (864 individuals) were from Metro Vancouver. Individuals who had previously lived in another country represented just 4% (173 individuals).

For the duration of time spent in the community at the time of the count, 17% indicated they had been there for under one year, 18% between one year and under five years, 11% between five years and under 10 years, 32% for 10 years or more, and 22% had always been there.

As for the reasons people were most likely to lose their homes, the leading factor was insufficient income, with 31% of respondents noting this as the issue. This is followed by addiction and substance abuse (23%), landlord and tenant conflict (15%), conflict with a spouse or partner (13%), mental health issues (11%), unfit or unsafe housing (9%), and conflict with a parent or guardian (9%).

A quarter of respondents noted they had been without their own place for under six months, while 12% said they were without their own place for between 6 and 12 months, and the majority of 62% said at least one year.

The vast majority of respondents self-reported they had multiple health conditions, and 29% self-reported they had an acquired brain injury. This condition is increasingly common amongst individuals who frequently experience overdoses, but are later revived through methods such as naloxone.

Over the year-long period before the count, 40% accessed ambulance services, 55% went to an emergency room, 44% accessed non-emergency services at a hospital, 31% accessed mental health services, and 25% used a supervised injection site. As well, 62% used food services, 41% used housing services, 34% used employment and financial services, and 27% used legal services.

For their source of income, 47% said they had access to welfare or income assistance, and 31% noted they had a disability benefit. Just 3% self-reported they had a full-time job, 6% had a part-time job, and 9% had contract work. Another 15% try to make it by binning and bottle collecting, and 9% resort to panhandling. Only 11% are able to receive financial help from family and friends.

In a statement, David Eby, the BC Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing, says the report provides the provincial government with a better idea of where people are falling into homelessness so that more resources can be deployed into those areas to assist the individuals and prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

In addition to the tallies from the homeless counts, the provincial government has released the findings of its 2019 Homeless Cohort Integrated Data Project, which estimates how many people experienced homelessness at any given time in 2019.

The data project, conducted for the first time ever, aims to fill in the potential gaps of the 24-hour homeless counts by volunteers that depend on one-to-one interaction with individuals. It makes an estimate on the size and state of the homeless population based on its collection and analysis of data on homelessness from provincial employment assistance, shelter, and health programs.

The data project estimated 9,300 unique people experience homelessness each month on average, and that a total of 23,000 people experienced homelessness at some point in 2019, whether it is one day, a short period or longer term. Nearly half (48%) experienced homelessness for six months or more.

It estimated there were 8,700 unique homeless people in January 2019, with the figure increasing to 10,100 in December 2019.

In 2019, 90% of the homeless population stayed in one region, while 10% moved between regions.

“The information we’ve gathered since doing a physical provincial homeless count for the first time in 2018 has been very useful in identifying trends and unique demographic information; however, this new anonymized data collected from government systems helps us better figure out the profiles of those who are chronically homeless and what services and supports these folks need to come inside,” said Eby.

“We’ll be able to transition from reacting to a particular housing crisis, to being able to prevent chronic homelessness in the first place. That’s a big deal, and this information makes it possible.”

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