Chilliwack homeless numbers decreased in 2014 count

Across the FVRD region, homelessness rose to some degree in Abbotsford, Mission and Boston Bar.

  • May. 13, 2014 8:00 p.m.
Ron Van Wyk

Ron Van Wyk

Homeless numbers are down significantly in Chilliwack compared to the last survey, according to preliminary totals released Tuesday in the 2014 FVRD Homeless Count.

“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 coordinator, in a presentation Tuesday to FVRD Regional and Corporate Services Committee.

Last time they conducted the survey in Chilliwack in 2011, there were 111 who self-identified as homeless, but that total dipped to only 73 people in the 2014 Homeless Count.

The homeless count is a “snapshot” or moment-in-time survey, conducted at the same time as the Metro Vancouver count over a 24-hour period in March.

The total of homeless people living in the FVRD has remained “fairly flat,” from 2011 to 2014, Van Wyk said, with the numbers notching up from 345 to 346.

It’s still well below the record high for the region of 465 homeless enumerated in 2008.

Across the region, homelessness rose to some degree in Abbotsford, Mission and Boston Bar.

When asked what would end their plight of being homeless, the answer most often given not surprisingly was “affordable housing.”

From 2011 to 2014, Abbotsford went from a count of 117 homeless to 151, while Mission’s numbers went from 54 to 75 people.

Hope went from 43 to 22, also marking a decrease in the homeless population.

Agassiz-Harrison remained the same with 20 people, and Boston Bar found five people homeless, which is up from zero in 2011.

“Overall it is fairly stable, and so it’s plausible to argue the reason why it remains stable I would think is that there are organizations that do a lot of creative stuff.”

Partnerships and MOUs established between local governments and BC Housing were given the nod, which have resulted in “several new facilities and services in the past six years,” Van Wyk said.

Since 2008, local governments, service agencies, government ministries and volunteer groups have been proactively working to reduce the number of people on the streets. Local initiatives include housing outreach assistance, street nurses, improved shelter programs, and housing linked to supportive services.

He mentioned the School Street project in Chilliwack, the Christine Lamb facility in Abbotsford, as well as facilities in Mission that have come on-stream.

“All that work contributes to the fact that the numbers remain more or less the same,” he said.

“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.”

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

There are more men than women who are homeless, and most at 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, other are binning or bottle recycling.

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

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

Similar to previous findings nationwide, a significant proportion, or 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 living homeless, and presents a big challenge to those of us providing services.”

Those who say they struggle with mental health and addictions put together are a significant number at 64.2 per cent.

It’s a “challenging” situation and also by definition a health issue.

“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, who is also associate ED of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

The survey is sponsored by the FVRD, with the MCC of BC managing overall coordination, volunteer training, data capturing, statistical analysis and reporting.

FVRD Chair Sharon Gaetz, who is also Chilliwack Mayor, said they very much appreciated the regional data that the survey provides.

“We’ve been watching the trend go down, which is comforting for the politicians sitting around the table. Some things are going right, and partnerships are part of it,” she said.

One stat surprised her — that over 40 per cent suffer from some sort of addiction problem, yet only 5.7% per cent said they thought that addiction was the reason why they were homeless.

“Yes, I noted that too, and I’ve noted it in the past too,” said Van Wyk. “It’s a case of people recognizing that they have an addiction issue. That’s one thing.

“It’s another thing to say, ‘I need to find a way to deal with it.’ I think it’s just human nature to not own up to things, or we find ways to rationalize.

“We know from study after study across Canada, for 15 years if not two decades, there are a significant number of people who live homeless are living with substance abuse issues,” said Van Wyk.

“But from what we know there has to be willingness to deal with their issues before anything can happen.  If that’s not there, there not much we can do.”

In terms of finding solutions, Van Wyk listed: increased health services; access to physicians; more treatment facilities; and support for those coming out of incarceration.

“We have to help provide a net that can catch them, that they can land on, to give them an on-ramp to supportive housing. Sometime the net has a few holes in it when they come out of incarceration, and they end up living where they’re living.”

Van Wyk was careful how he phrased things.

“I don’t say this in a derogatory way, but those who are living homeless, they are messed up,” he said.

Many have had unconventional childhoods with “unbelievable forms of abuse.”

What is needed in the wake of closed institutions in B.C., is “humane institutionalization,” and a way to deal with the culture of substance abuse, and to continue to “love, and care, and show compassion” for those facing the condition of homelessness.

“It’s not that some people have chosen to become homeless. It’s that some of us are more resilient than others.”

Some just “buckle under.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The annual Make a Difference Sale in Abbotsford is moving online for 2021. (File photo)
Make a Difference Sale in Abbotsford goes virtual for 2021

Annual auction raises money for world hunger through Canadian Foodgrains Bank

The Bug Girl, written by seven-year-old Sophia Spencer, is being given to 500 B.C. classrooms as part of Canadian Agriculture Literacy Month. (Submitted photos)
Reading challenges part of Canadian Agriculture Literacy Month

Abbotsford-based BC Agriculture in the Classroom participates in 10th annual event

Two teens were sent to hospital after being stabbed Saturday evening. (Shane MacKichan photo)
Two teens stabbed in Abbotsford

20-year-old man has been detained

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Inez Louis, who is strategic operations planner with the health department in the Sto:lo Service Agency, talks about infection control in the latest YouTube video about COVID-19 created in partnership with the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice and the Chilliwack Economic Recovery Network. (YouTube)
VIDEO: Nurse Inez Louis explains how infection control is not social control

The difference is important for Indigenous people to hear in the context of Canada’s colonial past

Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Approximate location of the vehicle incident. (Google Maps)
Vehicle incident blocking Coquihalla traffic in both directions

Both directions of traffic stopped due to vehicle incident

Most Read