The results of the 2017 homeless count in B.C.'s Fraser Valley show a dramatic increase in homelessness in the region compared to the last count conducted in 2014.

Volunteers counted how many individuals were homeless within a 24-hour period between March 7 and 8, 2017. The results of the survey were presented Wednesday to the Fraser Valley Regional District board,  which commissioned the report.

According to the report, there were 606 homeless individuals in the region at the time of the count this March, compared to 346 during a similar count in 2014.

That's an increase of almost 75 per cent.

Tough winter

The Fraser Valley, located on the outskirts of Metro Vancouver, spans Abbotsford in the west to Hope in the east. The survey found most of the individuals experiencing homelessness were concentrated in the municipalities of Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission.

This past winter, homelessness was a particularly tough issue in those communities where residents faced a long, gruelling season with temperatures regularly dipping below zero. A 51-year-old woman died in Chilliwack when her temporary shelter in a homeless camp collapsed under the weight of snow.

Jason Lum, the chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District, says the survey supported anecdotal reports.

"I wasn't surprised. It kind of confirmed what many of our communities had been already reporting," he said. "It definitely reconfirmed homelessness continues to be one of the most pressing and challenging issues in our region."

Housing supports

Ron Van Wyk, a director of programming with the Mennonite Cultural Centre, was contracted to conduct the survey. He says while the increase in homelessness was a significant finding, he also noted that people were reporting living homeless for a longer period of time.

"Then the other thing that stands out is the prevalence of people self-reporting addictions issues and mental health issues and the combination thereof," he said. 

He says these issues need to be taken into account when looking at possible solutions.

"We need to make adjustments to programs and interventions that need to be amended in terms of working with people," he said.

Lum said the report will be an important tool to advocate for more provincial and federal supports for communities in the Fraser Valley.

"Everyody has stepped up and continues to do as much as we possibly can, but we really do need to continue to collaborate with the federal and provincial governments, if we want to make a significant difference."