Vancouver homeless count to focus on Indigenous population

The City of Vancouver has recruited nearly 500 volunteers to conduct the municipality's annual homeless count.

Of the 2,138 homeless people who were counted in Vancouver in 2017, 39 per cent were Indigenous

The City of Vancouver is conducting a count of the city's homeless population and will deliver a preliminary report to council in May. (David Horemans/CBC)

The City of Vancouver has recruited nearly 500 volunteers to conduct the municipality's annual homeless count.

The team spent Tuesday evening and the early morning hours of Wednesday collecting information from people who were staying at shelters.

As the sun came up, volunteers shifted their focus to people who were outside.

"Housing and homelessness is really the top issue in Vancouver," said Mayor Gregor Robertson.

"Making sure that our most vulnerable people living literally on the streets are getting the support they need continues to be top priority."

The count, which is separate from the exercise Metro Vancouver conducts every three years, is meant to provide a snapshot of the city's homeless population on any given day.

It's widely accepted, however, that the city's actual homeless population is higher than reported because many people go undetected.

Preliminary results will be presented to council in early May, and the final report is expected in mid-June.

Indigenous count

The 2017 count found that 39 percent of the city's homeless population of 2,138 was Indigenous.

"There's a massive overrepresentation," Robertson said.

"That's a major concern for us."

Vancouver's director of homelessness services, Ethel Whitty, says this year the city is partnering with the Lu'ma Native Housing Society to conduct an Aboriginal count.

"We're collaborating with their count consultants, sharing planning, volunteer roots and data, so that the count is respectfully conducted in the spirit of reconciliation and to ensure consistency in reporting," she said.

Provincial Aboriginal Homeless Committee of B.C. chair Patrick Stewart says his group of volunteers is taking a bit of a different approach.

"This is the first year we were able to have our own funding for an Aboriginal count," he said.

"We introduced tobacco ties as a sacred item, and we offered those to people that we spoke with and people were very appreciative of receiving that."

Architects rendering of temporary modular housing planned for 525 Powell Street. (City of Vancouver)

Modular housing

Robertson says the provincial government's commitment to fund temporary modular housing should help get people off the street.

"Our big goal is to get friends, family, neighbours off the streets, out of the parks ... those who are sleeping outside, in particular, into a warm, safe place to sleep," he said.

"The temporary modular homes are a very important tool to let us do that.

Robertson announced Wednesay the city has identified the Little Mountain area as a potential site for dozens of modular homes.

The city also expects to open more than 50 temporary units near the 29th Avenue SkyTrain station, sometime in early July.

Whitty says modular housing helps, but rising poverty levels make it difficult to get the problem under control.

"Without addressing the inability of people to pay more for the income assistance shelter rate of $375 a month, homelessness will increase," she said.