News / Vancouver

Vancouver homelessness at record levels: 2016 count

City of Vancouver’s 2016 Homeless Count identifies 1,847 people on the streets and in shelters, the highest since counts began in 2005.

Pedestrians walk beside homeless people on Granville St. in downtown Vancouver, on Wednesday March 13, 2013.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eric Dreger

Pedestrians walk beside homeless people on Granville St. in downtown Vancouver, on Wednesday March 13, 2013.

A record number of homeless people were identified in the City of Vancouver’s most recent count.

The 2016 Homeless Count – a 24-hour snapshot conducted by 450 volunteers March 9 – identified 1,847 people living either on the streets of Vancouver (539) or in its shelters (1,308).

That number represents 0.31 per cent of Vancouver’s entire population and is the highest on record since the city started the count in 2005.

There has been a six per cent increase in the number of homeless people identified over the 2015 count.

Given the nature of the one-day survey, Celine Mauboules, senior planner of housing and policy projects at the city, warned the actual number of homeless is likely much higher.

“It is an undercount,” she said. “We can’t find everyone and not everyone is willing to participate.”

Mayor Gregor Robertson, who once ran on a platform to end homelessness by 2015, was under fire Tuesday for his failed campaign promise and called on federal and provincial governments to do more.

“We were in a homeless crisis in 2008, record levels of homelessness at that point, and I certainly made assumptions that the provincial and federal government would step up,” said Robertson. “I regret the fact that we weren’t able to rally the B.C. and federal government to the levels needed to solve homelessness in Vancouver. I think it’s a responsibility that we all need to take seriously and I’m not letting up on it.”

On top of housing, Robertson said senior levels of government need to raise welfare rates and boost social supports for youth aging out of the foster care system.

The count has identified a number of new trends that point to shifting demographics among the people who are currently homeless.

Sixty-one per cent of those identified in the count have been homeless for less than a year.

Nearly a third of those living in shelters year-round are employed, according to the survey.

Aboriginals (38 per cent), people who identify as LGBTQ2+ (13 per cent) and veterans (11 per cent) are over-represented in the homeless population.

Women make up 23 per cent of the homeless population.

Housing advocate Jean Swanson, with the Carnegie Community Action Project, said she wasn’t surprised the number of homeless is up.

“More people are coming into our office seeking housing,” she said. “There’s an absolute lack of affordable housing and people on welfare can’t afford to pay rent.

“I went into a BC Housing office last week and asked if I were homeless what would you do for me? They could give me a list of shelters. If I wanted real housing they said there’s a three-year wait.”

Despite the city and province’s partnership in creating 1,500 units of supportive housing over the last few years, city council heard more than 2,300 people remain on the BC Housing waitlist.

The city has offered 20 sites throughout the city, valued at $250 million, to the provincial and federal governments for 3,500 units of affordable housing.

Robertson said “ideally” those would all be social housing, though the city envisions a mix of subsidized and market housing.

The city is still waiting for official responses from the other two levels of government.

Non-Partisan Association Coun. Melissa De Genova said just building housing and, in its absence, pointing fingers at senior governments won’t solve the problem.

“I didn’t agree with the mayor’s promise [to end homelessness] because I didn’t agree it was something that was realistic. But had we seen the numbers go down, at least I could have walked away from council today feeling that we are making a difference,” she said. “Instead, now we see that homelessness is not only up but that we’re seeing different groups that perhaps were not identified before.”

De Genova suggested the city should look into more grants and municipal funding for non-profit associations and agencies able to address people’s housing and mental health needs.

It also needs to urgently address affordability in the city.

“We’re not getting to these people early enough and I believe it is a domino effect,” she said. “We have to keep our eyes focused on the long-term goal of housing and providing the mental health services that are so necessary to see those numbers go down.”

Robertson, meanwhile, maintains “no city in the country is doing more than Vancouver” on homelessness and vowed to continue making it a priority of his government.

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