British Columbia

Vancouver's homeless count rises to highest number since survey began

The homeless count in Vancouver has risen to 2,223, up two per cent from 2018. This is the fourth straight year the number has gone up. 

2,223 people were counted, up 2% from 2018

Dan Brown and Kim Maybee hand out food to homeless people in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The number of homeless people in Vancouver continues to rise, in spite of the city's new modular housing complexes.

The city released its 2019 homelessness count in a staff report on Wednesday, which showed 2,223 people who identified as homeless.

That figure is up two per cent from 2018, when 2,181 people were counted. This is the fourth straight year the number has gone up. 

"We are seeing a slower growth in the numbers.… The actions taken by the city and senior levels of government are having an impact," said Celine Mauboules, Vancouver's director of homelessness services.

"But homelessness in Vancouver is at its highest number since the count began."

Vancouver conducted its annual count over the course of two days in March, with 400 volunteers surveying people sleeping on the streets and staying in emergency shelters.

A voluntary and anonymous questionnaire asked people in shelters how long they had been without a home, as well as their age, gender, ethnicity and health concerns.

The full report can be read here

No conclusion why numbers went up

Around half of those identified through the count filled out a survey, giving the city demographic and geographic information about its homeless population. Of the survey's respondents:

  • 39 per cent said they were Indigenous (compared to two per cent of the city's overall population)
  • 44 per cent said they had a mental health condition or illness
  • 38 per cent said they had a physical disability
  • 81 per cent said they lived in the City of Vancouver before they became homeless. 
A person wrapped up in a blanket outside, with a toque on.
The City of Vancouver's homeless count has taken place every year since 2010. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

But the report didn't examine the reasons why the number of homeless people increased, despite more than 600 modular housing units being built since September 2017. 

"I think the reason it hasn't [gone down] is there's so many shelter rate units that have closed," said Coun. Jean Swanson, referencing the closure of the Balmoral and Regent hotels, along with other shuttered Single Resident Occupancy units that housed people at shelter rates.  

"This is a real humanitarian crisis that's totally unnecessary." 

Abigail Bond, Vancouver's director of affordable housing, said the city "doesn't have all the specifics in the change in the SRO stock," and hasn't "seen the impact on the numbers counted in the community, but in our perspective it's still a vital part of the solution."

Federal and provincial help  

Mayor Kennedy Stewart said "we're all devastated" by the increased numbers, but was adamant the city's modular housing strategy was effective given the lack of alternatives for people unable to find affordable housing.

"They'd be on the street. The devastating impact [of the affordability crisis] would be so much worse if it weren't for the modular housing," he said.  

"We just need to keep doing this. It comes from chronic underinvestment in housing."   

Mohinder Singh Khunkhun lives in a shelter at Commercial Drive and First Avenue. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Stewart — whose campaign promise to create a renter's office in the City of Vancouver was passed by council earlier Wednesday — called on the federal government to provide more funding, highlighting the commitment made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017 to cut homelessness in half in a decade.

"If you make a pledge to halve the homelessness rate, you have to start working on this now, it can't be just talk," Stewart said. 

"It all depends on the prime minister. If the prime minister comes through with his investments, then it could make a dent."

But the mayor also said the city need to continue to put money toward the problem. 

"What we're doing is expensive. But these are our neighbours, and they need help," he said.