Homeless count sheds light on Chilliwack needs

Volunteers were busy conducting the 24-hour Homeless Count on Tuesday and Wednesday across Chilliwack.

Kim Lloyd (left) of Pacific Community Resources Society shows volunteers Leah Froese of Abbotsford's Cyrus Centre (right) and Penny Robinson how to fill out forms for the 2014 Homeless Count. The two were some of about 15 volunteers helping out on Wednesday.

The chips, granola bars and fresh fruit were given out freely.

Volunteers were busy conducting the 24-hour Homeless Count on Tuesday and Wednesday across Chilliwack.

The snacks and water were like a friendly way to broach the topic of the survey. They were definitely more of an introduction than a bribe, explained Steve Esau, manager/counsellor at Chilliwack Addictions.

“If they felt like filling out a survey — great!” he said.

Esau was one of about 20 trained volunteers in the Homeless Count 2014 who fanned out across Chilliwack on March 11-12, talking confidentially and with respect to street people, about their housing situations and much more.

The region-wide count is held every three years, and has been ongoing in communities across Metro Vancouver, Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.

It provides a snapshot of the community homelessness situation, rather than an exhaustive study.

“The survey helps us understand what is needed in our community in terms of services,” Esau said.

They get feedback on which resources and services are being accessed in Chilliwack, and which ones are most useful, and which may not be viewed as helpful by those they’re designed to serve.

“We can speculate all we want, but the true voices we need to hear are from those actually going through it. This an opportunity for us to hear those voices,” said Esau.

The results are compiled by FVRD officials while MCC officials in Abbotsford coordinate the planning. The 2014 count was completed with the help of about 100 volunteers across the Fraser Valley region, with about 20 per community, or fewer in smaller towns.

Many of the people who volunteer for the count are individuals who already work for social service agencies and local non-profits who serve the target population of the survey, which include homeless or street-entrenched populations.

“It’s a good mix of people who step forward to help,” said Ron van Wyk, associate executive director of MCC BC in Abbotsford. They used the same approach that they’ve always used.

“We call it a survey,” said van Wyk. “Because it’s more than a count.”

They do compile numbers on how many individuals self-identify as homeless, but they also seek to understand the reasons why they are without safe accommodations, as well as details like where they come from and how old they are.

“We find out what are the barriers they have to finding their own accommodations, and what medical conditions or health issues they may be dealing with,” he said.

In 2008 they counted 98 people in Chilliwack, and the number of homeless went up to 110 at the last count in 2011.

Over the past decade there has been a noticeable boost in supportive housing facilities in Chilliwack, specifically for those with mental health, addictions, and other barriers, van Wyk said. From the Legacy facility on School Street, to Ruth & Naomi’s Mission, to the Health and Housing Contact Centre on Young Road, there are more housing options and shelter beds in Chilliwack than ever.

“They all came about partly as a result of this work,” he stated. “The count contributes to a better understanding of the phenomena of homelessness in our communities and the need for services, and on-ramps into permanent supportive housing.”

It’s valuable to service-providers and others who need to quantify the issues.

“It also creates greater awareness and understanding at the political level, of the services needed, that will become possible over time,” he added.

Information from previous counts is at www.stophomelessness.ca.

Preliminary results from the 2014 Homeless Count could be ready by late April, with final results by July.

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