Homeless report calls for more government funding

Homelessness has decreased in Abbotsford and Mission, but increased in Chilliwack, Agassiz-Harrison and Hope, according to a final report of the 2011 Fraser Valley Regional District Homelessness Survey.

Homelessness has decreased in Abbotsford and Mission, but increased in Chilliwack, Agassiz-Harrison and Hope, according to a final report of the 2011 Fraser Valley Regional District Homelessness Survey.

“That’s something we can’t explain at this point,” Ron Wyk, the survey’s co-ordinator, said about the anomaly.

But one “possible factor” suggested by the report may be a stricter crime prevention strategy in Abbotsford and a city bylaw that prevents homeless camps from being erected and “taking root.”

Treating homelessness as a crime issue may have pushed the homeless eastward, the report suggested.

Drug addiction and mental health issues are significant factors in the number of “chronically-homeless,” Wyk said, and the B.C. government needs to continue to work with regional and local governments to respond to that challenge.

“Progress has been made, but challenges are remaining,” he said.

The number of homeless in Chilliwack increased to 111 from the 98 counted in a similar 2008 survey, from 12 to 20 in Agassiz-Harrison, and from 20 to 43 in Hope, a 115 per cent increase.

The count in Abbotsford dropped from 235 to 117 in 2011, and Mission’s dropped from 100 to 54.

A total 345 homeless were counted in the survey conducted in March, 2011, compared to 465 counted in the 2008 survey and 411 in 2004.

Among the survey’s other findings are:

– homelessness is a result of poverty, unaffordable rental rates, family breakdown, mental health issues and drug addiction;

– nearly two-thirds are homeless for one year or longer;

– more women sought shelter in transition houses in 2011, rising to 34 from the 21 in 2008;

– more women were homeless in 2011, jumping to 45 percent from 32 percent in 2008;

– addiction was reported by 37 percent and mental health issues by 20 per cent;

– the majority of survey respondents (66 percent) came from outside the region.

The report cited the dismantling of federal housing policy as leading to a “complete halt” in construction of affordable housing and shifting of the financial burden onto municipalities.

“Without a national housing policy, Canadians who find themselves homeless are at the mercy of a system that is ad hoc, piecemeal and not proactive,” the report states.

However, local initiatives like housing outreach, street nurses, improved shelter programs, and housing linked to supportive services helped reduce the overall number of homeless in the region.

rfreeman@theprogress.com

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