The provincial government has stopped recording numbers related to shelter turn-aways and one critic thinks they want to turn a blind eye to a major problem.
The numbers haven’t been recorded since November 2014, according to documents obtained by NDP MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey David Eby through the Freedom of Information Act.
“I don’t think people really knew how big the problem was until they started seeing shelter turn-away data that literally hundreds of people were being turned away from these things,” Eby tells Vancity Buzz.
According to Eby, the data was used by advocates to press the government to address issues of chronic homelessness and by shelters to make sure they had enough beds and are in the right location. He says it also was used by the provincial government to determine if they have sufficient emergency shelter beds in certain cities.
Around 50,000 people were turned away from shelters in the province last year.
Eby says Vancouver has homelessness counts, but in many other cities in the province they rely on turn-away data to get an idea of the number of people living on the streets.
“There’s a very high correlation in those cities between high shelter turn-aways and major social issues. For example, Abbotsford, Maple Ridge, Victoria, and Vancouver all have very significant turn-away data and we know all of these cities have very serious homeless populations,” he says.
The province responded to Eby in a letter saying turn-away statistics fail to take the following into consideration:
- It only reflects incidents, rather than certain individuals – so one person who goes to multiple shelters to find a room might be counted multiple times.
- Turn-aways don’t necessarily reflect whether a shelter is full or not and could mean that person didn’t mean criteria for a specific shelter.
- People turned away at one shelter might have found shelter at another location the same day.
- Some shelters fail to report some or any of their turn-away incidents.
But Eby thinks the province has a different reason for not recording turn-away data.
“If you stop collecting the data, you may not solve the problem, but at least it gets less politically embarrassing.”
“It’s simply protection from political exposure around a worsening issue,” he says.
Eby says there’s no reason to stop collecting that data, since most shelters record those numbers anyway, and all it would take is a simple email to the province at no cost to taxpayers. He’s urging the province to standardize homelessness counts in order to help direct resources to the right places.
“It’s not perfect data, but at least it was something – now all we have have are full bed nights at shelters, so we know, for example, that all 50 beds at shelter ‘x’ were used, but not that 500 people showed up trying to get in but couldn’t.”