British Columbia

More than half of Vancouver's homeless population have been homeless for less than a year, count finds

Among one of the most significant findings is the vast overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the count.

Overall, Vancouver's homeless population went up by 2%

An overnight camper sleeps in the doorway of a store on Robson Street in Vancouver. The 2018 homeless count found slightly more people than 2017's. (David Horemans/CBC)

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said the results of the 2018 homeless count are a "stark reminder" that more needs to be done to help the city's most vulnerable.

Councillors received the results of the count, conducted March 13 and 14, at a Tuesday meeting.

The count found 2,181 homeless Vancouverites: 659 were living on the street and 1,522 were in shelters.

That total number of people experiencing homelessness is two per cent higher than last year.

The count also found 52 per cent of the people experiencing homelessness had only been homeless for less than a year.

Multiple factors affecting numbers

Ethel Whitty, the city's director of homelessness services, said there are a number of different issues affecting the numbers.

"It's not a fixed number of people we have to find housing for and then the problem will be over. We have the problem of low vacancy rates and poverty," Whitty said.

"People do not have the money to pay, even if there was something available."

Listen to the interview with Ethel Whitty on CBC's The Early Edition:

Mayor Gregor Robertson said the two per cent uptick was much smaller than the 16 per cent increase from 2016 to 2017.

"Thanks to a strong partnership with the new B.C. government, we've been able to house hundreds of people in a very short time," Robertson said in a news release.

"With hundreds of new temporary modular homes and permanent social housing set to open in the coming months, I'm confident we'll make significant progress towards making sure that no one has to sleep outside at night in Vancouver."

Vancouver's very first modular home site was at 220 Terminal Avenue. (City of Vancouver)

Other key findings

The city released some highlights from the count:

  • 0.3 per cent of Vancouver's total population is homeless.
  • Seventy-eight per cent were living in Vancouver when they became homeless.
  • Indigenous people are "vastly" overrepresented, at 40 per cent of those counted. Indigenous people, the city says, account for 2.2 per cent of Vancouver's total population.
  • Thirty-five per cent of homeless people said they had no addictions; 28 per cent said they were addicted to cigarettes; and 25 per cent said they were addicted to opioids.
  • Thirty-eight per cent said they were on income assistance; 29 per cent received disability benefits and 20 per cent were employed.
  • Forty-four per cent said they had some sort of medical condition or illness; 43 per cent had a mental health issue and 38 per cent had a physical disability.

Robertson made ending street homelessness by 2015 a key promise when running for mayor in 2008 but that did not come to pass. He is not seeking re-election this fall.

Over the course of the last several months, the city has opened or announced several temporary modular housing projects to house homeless people.

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