Homeless count finds housing affordability crisis driving numbers up

Metro Vancouver released final results from the 2017 homeless count Tuesday. It found a lack of income and affordable housing are the main reasons half of the people surveyed said they slept on the street or in shelters.

Half of people surveyed said lack of income and lack of affordable housing main reason for plight

About half the people surveyed in the 2017 Metro Vancouver homeless survey had lived in the region 10 or more years before becoming homeless. (David Horemans/CBC)

Housing costs and a lack of income are driving up the numbers of Lower Mainland homeless, 22 per cent of whom were employed full or part-time, according to the latest count conducted by Metro Vancouver.

The report issued Tuesday said the takeaway from this year's homeless count is the need for more affordable housing.

About half of the people surveyed said housing costs and a lack of income were the main reasons they slept on the street or in shelters.

"In order to stem growing homelessness, it is clear we need more affordable housing options," Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay, the chair of the region's housing committee, said in a statement.

Metro Vancouver's homeless counts take a one night snapshot of homelessness in the region. Volunteers go out canvassing people both in and out of shelters and gather information about them.

The report counted 3,605 people in total, up 30 per cent from the last count in 2014.

Authors say the point-in-time snapshot is conservative and represents the minimum number of homeless people in the region.

Youth homeless was down slightly in the 2017 count, but overall the numbers, including the number of seniors, was up. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

More seniors, fewer youths

About half the people surveyed had lived in the region 10 years or more before becoming homeless.

Vancouver, Surrey and Langley were the three cities with the most homeless people.

The report found 82 per cent of those surveyed had at least one health condition. 

The count also revealed an increase in the number of homeless seniors, who  made up 23 per cent of the people surveyed in 2017, up from 18 per cent in 2014.

The percentage of homeless youths was down from 20 per cent of the total population in 2014 to 16 per cent in 2017.

Of the people counted, 746 said they were Aboriginal, 1,453 said they were non-Aboriginal and 1,406 were counted but had no answer.

The homeless count was conducted March 7 to 8, 2017. (David Horemans/CBC )

Aboriginal homelessness 'troubling'

A finding 34 per cent of the homeless people surveyed were Aboriginal, an increase of 28 per cent from 2014, was called "troubling" by the authors of a separate report released Monday.

Aboriginal people only account for 2.5 per cent of Metro Vancouver's total population.

"The enduring effects of colonization, the legacy of the residential school system and the impact of child welfare and the foster care system continue to impact the daily experience of many Aboriginal Peoples and families and directly contribute to the high incidence of Aboriginal homelessness," the report read.

"The bottom line shows that Aboriginal peoples are 18 times more likely to be homeless in Metro Vancouver than the mainstream population."

The report on Aboriginal homelessness makes several recommendations.

They include more balanced funding for Aboriginal homelessness groups versus the mainstream, less red tape for Aboriginal organizations, culturally appropriate supports specifically for Aboriginal people and a rethinking of "Housing First" strategies, which the authors say have not been successful for Aboriginal people.

With files from Megan Batchelor

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