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UPDATE: Abbotsford sees increase in number of homeless people

The number of homeless people increased in Abbotsford between 2011 and 2014.  - Alex Butler
The number of homeless people increased in Abbotsford between 2011 and 2014.
— image credit: Alex Butler

Jennifer FEINBERG

Black Press

The number of homeless people in Abbotsford rose from 117 to 151 between 2011 and 2014.

Though homelessness stayed stable in the Fraser Valley, the number of homeless climbed in several communities including Abbotsford, Mission and Boston Bar, while Chilliwack and Hope saw a decrease since the last survey, according to preliminary totals released Tuesday from the 2014 FVRD Homeless Count.

The Fraser Valley Regional District count is a “snapshot” or point-in-time survey, which was conducted by volunteers simultaneously as the Metro Vancouver count in March over a 24-hour period.

“What we know, after doing this now for the fourth time in a decade, is that since 2004, homelessness is not just a Metro Vancouver issue; it is indeed an issue here in our communities as well,” said Ron Van Wyk, homeless count research co-ordinator, in a presentation Tuesday to the FVRD Regional and Corporate Services Committee.

From 2011 to 2014, the overall total in the FVRD has remained “fairly flat,” he said, shifting from 345 people to 346 who self-identified as homeless. The latest total is still well below the record high for the region of 465 homeless enumerated in 2008.

When asked what would end their plight of homelessness, the answer most often given to volunteers was “affordable housing.”

From 2011 to 2014, Mission’s numbers went from 54 to 75 people.

Those increases contrast with a decrease seen in Chilliwack. The 2011 count found 111 homeless in Chilliwack, while the total dipped this year to 73 people.

Hope went from 43 to 22 homeless.

“We still have work to do but I think we need to take some bit of encouragement, or hope from the fact that the numbers are not running away on us,” Van Wyk said.

About 32 per cent told volunteers they were born and raised in the FVRD area, while 68 per cent come to the Valley from outside the region.

There are more men than women who are homeless, and 73 per cent are considered “unsheltered,” which is the technical term for living on the streets.

A significant proportion are on welfare, about 30 per cent, while 13 per cent receive disability benefits.

“Also interesting to note is that there are also a few that do part-time employment, and even some that work full-time,” said Van Wyk.

Many reported living with health conditions, such as asthma, arthritis or hypertension.

Similar to previous findings nationwide, 22 per cent self-reported struggling with mental health illnesses or issues.

“We know from service providers too that the prevalence of people having a mental health issue is quite high among people who are living homeless, and presents a big challenge to those of us providing services.”

Those who say they struggle with a combination of mental health issues and addictions are a significant number at 64 per cent.

“As leaders and people concerned about this, a big part of this for people living homeless, and the solution to it, relates to health services and health issues,” said Van Wyk.

In terms of finding answers, he listed: better health services and access to physicians to deal with health problems, more treatment facilities and support for those coming out of incarceration.

After the presentation Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman asked what level of support would be needed to curb homelessness and provide affordable housing, and if those details would be coming in the final report.

“We talk about affordable housing, but it’s a pretty broad statement,” Banman said. “Is it $300 or $500 that we’re talking about, or what level would be needed to provide support?”

Van Wyk confirmed that information would be forthcoming in a more detailed final report.

“I don’t say this in a derogatory way, but those who are living homeless, they are messed up,” he said, noting that some have had unconventional childhoods with “unbelievable forms of abuse.”

What is needed in the wake of closed institutions in B.C., is more “humane institutionalization,” and a way to deal with the culture of substance abuse, he said.

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