Fewer seeking emergency shelter in Abbotsford

Final numbers are still being tabulated for the Fraser Valley homeless count, but it appears there is some optimistic news in Abbotsford.

Homeless count volunteers Bob Singleton and Laureen Atkinson head under a bridge.

Homeless count volunteers Bob Singleton and Laureen Atkinson head under a bridge.

Final numbers are still being tabulated for the Fraser Valley homeless count, but it appears there is some optimistic news in Abbotsford.

At a post-count debriefing last week, it was noted that outreach workers and shelter operators see fewer homeless people in Abbotsford seeking emergency housing during the coldest and wettest winter days. They were reviewing the past three years, since the last homeless count took place in 2008.

Ron Van Wyk, the director of programs for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), said speculation is that the addition of a new homeless shelter in Mission that is available 24-7, in addition to more second-stage housing, has decreased the demand for shelter in Abbotsford.

MCC coordinated the count for the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) cities and towns: Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison and Hope.

The 2008 homeless count saw the number of people living on the street rise 13 per cent from the previous count. A total of 465 people in the FVRD were deemed homeless. Of those, 235 were in Abbotsford, and about 100 in Mission.

The new numbers are expected to be released at a press conference next week.

Van Wyk said the provincial government is apparently using the count information in setting policy.

“Certainly government is listening to this, and responding to this,” he said, referring to housing projects, including a new Clearbrook Road facility for women and children which is under construction, and will be operated by the Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley.

He noted that Chilliwack has also brought facilities onstream which will serve the region’s homeless population.

Van Wyk said the 2011 count went according to plan, and about 150 volunteers across the region, including some 50 in Abbotsford, visited places where homeless people are known to congregate.

They had a survey of 19 questions, designed to find out how long people have been homeless, where they are from, their age, what shelters and other services they use, what health issues they have, the reasons for their homelessness and others.

Van Wyk said the information is being tabulated, and responses entered into a computer.