British Columbia

Homelessness up 30% in Metro Vancouver in latest count

Latest homeless count shows steep increase in Metro Vancouver, and local politicians hope 'extraordinary' numbers help put affordable housing on B.C. election agenda.

More than 3,600 people are currently homeless in region, up 30 per cent from last count in 2014

A homeless person sleeps out of the rain on a Robson Street sidewalk in downtown Vancouver. (David Horemans/CBC)

The latest count in Metro Vancouver has recorded a sharp increase in the number of people who are homeless, up 30 per cent from the most recent count in 2014.

Volunteers counted 3,605 people in the region who didn't have a place of their own on March 7 and 8, including:

  • 1,032 people unsheltered, including those sleeping in doorways, alleys, parks or couch surfing.
  • 2,573 people sheltered, including those sleeping in homeless shelters, extreme weather shelters, transition houses, jails or detox facilities.

Port Moody mayor Mike Clay, who is chair of Metro Vancouver's housing committee, called the increase "extraordinary," and said municipalities need the province's help to address the affordable housing crisis.

"The problem is increasing faster than solutions," he said.

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read is a member of the district's homelessness task force and their count of 70 camps shows there is a "system-wide failure" to help the homeless.

The preliminary report, released Monday, says the point-in-time snapshot is conservative and represents the minimum number of homeless people in the region.

By the numbers: homeless count

'We can do a lot better'

The committee will do further analysis, including demographic breakdowns of who is homeless, but they wanted to release what they had now to put homelessness on the agenda of the B.C. election.

"We're not going to solve this anytime soon but we can do a lot better than we're doing."

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, co-chair of the regional homelessness task force, called on B.C. provincial parties to commit to work with local governments on the issue, and open 1,000 new transitional homes annually for the next three years.

"Metro Vancouver mayors have been ringing the alarm bells for years while the homelessness crisis has spiraled out of control," he said in a statement.

Union Gospel Mission in downtown Vancouver has been inundated with out-of-work Albertans. (CBC)

Suburbs not immune

While Vancouver continues to have the greatest number of homeless people — by far — Clay said it's clear that homelessness is not just a problem of the Downtown Eastside.

"I think some people in the suburbs have wanted to portray it as 'this isn't going on in my community'. Well, it is," said the Port Moody mayor.

Vancouver saw the greatest increase in terms of number of homeless, up 335 people, while Surrey increased by 199.

Smaller communities, where the change of a few people can shift percentages considerably, saw the greatest increase, including Delta/White Rock — where homelessness more than doubled.

Homeless counts by city

With a file from the Canadian Press