The cohort of seniors who are homeless in Metro Vancouver appears to be growing in size, according to the newly released full report of the region’s 2020 homeless count, which was performed in the first week of March, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and is based on the self-reported identities and conditions of the individuals interviewed.
The latest count suggests individuals experiencing homelessness may be shifting with more seniors (defined as individuals 55 and over) and fewer youth (24 and under) found to be experiencing homelessness compared to the 2017 count.
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Seniors account for 24% of the homeless population, representing an increase of 2% from three years ago, while homeless youth fell to 193 from 386 in 2017. The survey notes it is possible that youth homelessness is more hidden, with more youth “couch-surfing” or relying on friends.
Nearly half (45%) of the respondents experienced homelessness for the first time as a senior when they were 55 years or older. More than four-in-10 respondents (43%) said they experienced homelessness for the first time when they were under the age of 25, including 29% who experienced it for the first time under the age of 19.
While these pre-COVID-19 figures do not provide any indication, youth have been particularly impacted by the pandemic, given that much of the changes in the labour market over the past year have been in low-barrier positions such as hospitality, restaurants, and retail.
In early March 2020, a total of 3,634 people were deemed to be homeless in the region, including 2,095 in Vancouver, 644 in Surrey, and 209 in Langley. Surveyors suggest there was just a 1% increase in the number of homeless compared to 2017.
Nearly nine-in-10 (87%) respondents said they had at least one health condition, such as a physical disability, illness, addiction, mental health issue or cognitive impairment. Of those with a health condition, 60% reported an addiction, including alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit opioids.
As for the location of origin for the 1,733 individuals who said they are “new to the community,” meaning they had not always lived in their current community, 58% reported they are from BC, including 30% in Metro Vancouver, 5% in the Fraser Valley, and 21% elsewhere in the province. Another 35% are from other areas of Canada, and 7% are from other countries.
Nearly half (47%) of the individuals interviewed in Vancouver said they are from elsewhere in Canada, while 43% in Surrey are more likely to have resettled from within Metro Vancouver.
The survey also notes 60% of the respondents have lived in the community where they were interviewed for five years or more, including 18% who said they had always lived there.
Indigenous people continue to be highly overrepresented amongst the local homeless population, with 33% self-identifying as Indigenous. In contrast, 2% of the region’s population is Indigenous. Compared to the general population, Indigenous people are 13.2 times more likely to experience homelessness.