Are homeless flocking to Fraser Valley from Vancouver? Report finally has answer

Homeless men and women were asked where they lived previously, how long they’d been without shelter

An influx of homeless men and women from Metro Vancouver hasn’t been the main driver of the increased numbers of people living on the street in the Fraser Valley, a new report suggests.

Earlier this year, a homeless count found a dramatic increase in homelessness across the region from three years ago, including a 79 per cent increase in Abbotsford. Those numbers, which were released in a preliminary report this spring, confirmed what many already suspected – that homelessness in the valley has jumped significantly.

But a more in-depth look at the numbers suggests that a long-rumoured cause of the jump might not be behind the increasing number of homeless.

Only 13 per cent of respondents said they moved to their current location from Metro Vancouver. Both the proportion and number of people who said they came from Vancouver decreased significantly from 2014.

Instead, the count found that most said they had moved to their current city from either another Fraser Valley community or from another part of B.C. outside the Lower Mainland.

Authored by Ron van Wyk, the count’s co-ordinator, the report cautions that those numbers have to be interpreted with data on length of residency. But there, too, the figures suggest that the bulk of homeless men and women in the region weren’t previously living on the streets in Vancouver.

Only 20 per cent told the count that they had lived elsewhere in the past year, with three-quarters of the 455 respondents to the question saying they had been living in their current town for at least two years. Nearly half said they’d been living locally for more than 11 years.

The homeless count also found that most men and women without housing in the Fraser Valley are “chronically” homeless.

About 68 per cent of respondents could be considered chronically homeless – meaning they have been without housing for at least six months of the past year. Half of those counted had been homeless for more than a full year.

The report suggests that those numbers are larger than found in Vancouver and Toronto in studies conducted in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

“Not only are there more people living homeless, but more people are homeless for longer periods of time,” the report says.

Around two-thirds of respondents reported having an addiction problem, with less than half of those receiving treatment. Around half also suffer from a medical condition or mental illness but, again, most aren’t receiving help.

The FVRD homeless population is also older than in 2014, with half of respondents in 2017 older than 40 – up from 43 per cent three years prior. That doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer young people are ending up on the street, though, as the jump in homeless numbers is consistent across age categories.

The count also found that Aboriginals and those who had been in ministry care were significantly over-represented among local homeless.

Nearly half of all homeless men and women were either currently or previously in ministry care. Across the Fraser Valley, those included three teenagers under the age of 15 and 36 respondents between the ages of 15 and 19.

And 35 per cent of those counted were found to be Aboriginal, vastly more than the proportion of the region’s population.

“The over-representation of people who identify as Aboriginal among those living homeless and the over-representation of Aboriginal youth in the child welfare system are causes for concern and policy rethink,” van Wyk writes in the report.

“Another cause for concern and perhaps, policy and practice rethink, is ‘system failure’ as a cause of homelessness as manifested through experiences with foster care and other forms institutional care.”

He writes that the level of chronically homeless “pushes to the fore the need for policy and practice rethink and changes related to homeless outreach programs and housing options.”

The report was set to be presented to the FVRD board on Wednesday.

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