Mishia Bakstad and Brian Desjarlais took part in the 2011 Homeless Count outside the Sally Ann soup kitchen on Wednesday.

Getting the number on homelessness

Volunteers with the 2011 Homeless Count head out into the streets early Wednesday morning, armed with clipboards, snacks, drinks, and friendly smiles.

They sport bright yellow buttons that read ‘Homeless Count’ in big block letters.

It’s about 11:30 a.m. on count day and folks are starting to line up for lunch.

Volunteers with the 2011 Homeless Count head out into the streets early Wednesday morning, armed with clipboards, snacks, drinks, and friendly smiles.

They sport bright yellow buttons that read ‘Homeless Count’ in big block letters.

It’s about 11:30 a.m. on count day and folks are starting to line up for lunch.

Soft-spoken street worker Mishia Bakstad explains she has already filled out a questionnaire, as she waits for a hot lunch to be served up at the local soup kitchen attached to the Chilliwack Salvation Army Care and Share Centre.

Bakstad was happy to answer questions with a count volunteer after arriving at the emergency shelter run by Chilliwack Salvation Army the night before.

“I think the count is great. There’s so many of us,” she says about the local street population. “Often they’re full up at the shelter. They had to put up a cot for me.”

Articulate and friendly, the young woman agrees to share part of her story of trying to survive on the streets of Chilliwack for the past year.

“I was attacked twice in the past month,” she says. “Finally, I came here and had a safe night’s sleep at the shelter.”

She doesn’t sugar-coat things.

“It’s hard,” she admits. “People give you dirty looks when you’re on the street, but they don’t know what you’ve been through.

“Other times it’s like we don’t even exist. But we’re people, too. It’s not like we chose to be here.”

Fed up with working the streets to pay for her drug habit, Bakstad is now desperately trying to get into a detox facility so she can get clean and get off the streets.

“I’m phoning three times a day to see if I can get in,” she says.

If she can stay clean, there’s a camp job waiting for her up in the Yukon.

Most of local homeless advocates have said they expect to find more people living on the streets with this year’s count. About 30 volunteers with the 2011 Homeless Count spread out across Chilliwack this week, but the results won’t be announced until all the numbers are in.

“Alarmingly” there are more youth and teens living the transient lifestyle, and more homeless in general bunkering down beyond the downtown core, in Rosedale, in Yarrow and Cultus Lake, says an HIV/AIDS outreach worker with PCRS.

“I think we’ll find a higher number of homeless in Chilliwack than the last time we did the count,” said PCRS staffer Kim Lloyd, who coordinated the Chilliwack end of the 2011 Homeless Count.

Last time in 2008 there were 98 homeless people counted in Chilliwack. Those types of statistics help governments and agencies trying to establish services and facilities to serve marginalized populations.

This time there could be “twice” that many counted during the survey, including more young people, Lloyd suggested.

“The problem with counting youth is they are often part of the hidden homeless. During the day many are sleeping, since at night they have to stay vigilant for safety reasons. So they’re not in the areas we expect them to be.

“Plus some are couch surfers so we may not see them on the street.”

Chilliwack is not unique in that other regional communities are facing the same challenges with homelessness, addictions and mental health issues, she notes.

“The reason why communities are involved in doing this homeless count is to help get funding and prove there is a homeless issue.

“The biggest hurdles to finding stable housing are addictions and mental health concerns. Once they find housing they are able to move forward. That’s one of the key issues.”

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Just Posted

UPDATE: Incident along train tracks shuts down Eagle Landing Parkway for several hours

The Chilliwack Progress has reached out to RCMP for further details

VIDEO: Fire destroys Chilliwack home on Bearstone Place

RCMP comfirm everyone got out of the house safely during Saturday morning fire

PHOTOS: Sasquatch Days about ‘being proud of being Sts’ailes’

The joint event between Harrison and Sts’ailes returned to the village for its eighth year

UPDATE: Highway 1 reopened after crash near Prest Road

The early morning incident involved a semi and a flagging truck

Three Albertans land ‘monster’ sturgeon in Fraser River

For angler who landed the exceptionally large sturgeon it was an ‘incredible dream come true’

10 facts about Father’s Day

Did you know that the special day for dads was first celebrated in 1910?

Pride flag taken down by Township of Langley

Woman said she was told it was removed from her front yard because of a complaint

B.C. university to offer mentorship program for former youth in care

Students using the provincial tuition waiver program will soon be able to form a community at KPU

Cyclists competing in one of the toughest bike races on the planet pass through Fernie

Divide riders looking strong as they finish first leg of 4160 km race

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

Revamped B.C. Lions set to battle veteran Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Lions’ first test of the season will be a big one

No business case for Trans Mountain expansion, says former environment minister

Cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline by Tuesday

LETTER: British Columbia’s forest industry crisis being made worse

Andrew Wilkinson warns of regulatory overload by John Horgan’s NDP

Most Read