Chilliwack's street population tripled in 2017 with 221 people self-identifying as homeless in the 2017 Homeless Count. That's an increase of 203 per cent.

Chilliwack's street population tripled in 2017 with 221 people self-identifying as homeless in the 2017 Homeless Count. That's an increase of 203 per cent.

Homeless numbers in Chilliwack have tripled

This year volunteers counted 221 homeless people in Chilliwack, up from 73 in 2014. The new number marks a spike of 203 per cent.

Preliminary results of the 2017 FVRD Homeless Count show the number of homeless people in Chilliwack has tripled — marking the highest increase in the Fraser Valley.

“It’s extremely disconcerting and disappointing,” said Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz.

This year volunteers counted 221 homeless people in Chilliwack, up from 73 in 2014 and marking a spike of 203 per cent.

“We knew this was happening as we had identified 18 homeless camps in our community in the past year, but this confirms it.”

Chilliwack officials could not ignore the dramatic rise of those living rough in Chilliwack.

“We knew we were not overestimating it,” she said.

The amount of homeless garbage, feces, discarded needles and condoms all pointed to an explosion in the homeless numbers.

“In a perfect world, we would have housing for everyone, but the reality is there are some who will never come inside and get the help they need.”

The hope is the findings will help Chilliwack obtain greater funding support from senior levels of government.

“We need our piece of the pie,” said the mayor. “The need is very great.”

There is a strong need for detox beds closer to home, and other treatment options for addicted populations. The findings of the count also underlined the degree to which addictions and mental health issues are at play, often with the people who are suffering from them receiving no treatment.

Across the Fraser Valley there were 603 homeless individuals counted during the 2017 Homeless Count, which is up from the 346 people they met in 2014.

More than 140 volunteers with the Homeless Count fanned out across the region over 24 hours on March 7-8, to conduct one-on-one interviews in homeless camps, soup kitchens, shelters, transition houses, warming centres, and in the streets.

“Although we were not surprised by the rather large increase in the numbers across the region, specifically in Abbotsford and Chilliwack, it is still a concern to me,” said Ron van Wyk, executive director, MCC Community Enterprises.

It was no real surprise because in between the counts held every three years, they stay in constant contact with outreach workers and others on the ground to hear anecdotal reports of what is actually happening on the streets.

“It seems despite all the steps taken by municipalities and service providers to provide more resources and services, the numbers have still risen significantly,” van Wyk said.

Rising house prices, rent increases, low vacancy rates, and the affordable housing crisis all factored in.

“This information is extremely valuable,” said FVRD board chair Jason Lum. “Using this data, service providers and all levels of government will be better positioned to address the challenge of homelessness in our communities.”

Preliminary findings of the 2017 count show increases in Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Hope. In 2014, there were 151 homeless individuals in Abbotsford; 73 in Chilliwack; and 22 in Hope. Abbotsford has increased by 79 per cent with a count of 271 people. Hope’s numbers increased by 64 per cent.

But the results were not uniform across the region.

The number of homeless in Mission and Agassiz-Harrison dropped, while the number in Boston Bar increased slightly.

“Many communities have made tremendous progress in addressing the challenges faced by those who are living outside,” said Lum. “From an increased number of shelter spaces, expanded outreach services, and improvements to supportive programs, we know that we are making progress but clearly more needs to be done.

“The 2017 results add urgency to the need to work with other levels of government and community partners to find more ways to reduce homelessness in our communities.”