The number of homeless individuals in the Fraser Valley went up significantly in three years. (Chilliwack Progress file)

Pandemic puts pressure on communities already challenged by homelessness

Final results of 2020 homeless count to assist governments trying to address housing issues

The COVID-19 pandemic has put extra pressure on various levels of government trying to address homelessness in communities across the Fraser Valley.

Final results from the 2020 Homeless Count were released to the Fraser Valley Regional District board on June 24, showing there are 895 homeless people across the Fraser Valley, according to a news release.

That marks a “significant” jump from 2017 when there were only 606 living in shelters, transition houses, service centres and outside.

“This information is extremely valuable, especially as we are faced with the added pressures related to COVID-19,” 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.”

Cities like Chilliwack built more supportive housing and shelter spaces in partnership with BC housing the last few years, and also set up isolation facilities in which homeless shelter residents could self-isolate.

“Many communities have made significant steps toward addressing homelessness and its associated challenges,” 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 more needs to be done.

The latest count results add “urgency” to continued efforts by government and community partners to find ways to reduce homelessness and its underlying causes, Lum added.

READ MORE: Number of shelter spaces rising

Where previous surveys in 2011 and 2014 showed improvements in several communities, the rapid increase between 2014 and 2017 and continuing increases into 2020 is “concerning” to FVRD officials.

“Continuing to work towards an increase in affordable and suitable housing remains an important matter in the FVRD to help lower-income individuals and families have a place to call home, to reduce the current level of homelessness and to prevent homelessness from increasing further,” said Dr. Ron van Wyk, of Anron Consulting Inc. who coordinated the count.

The Homeless Count is conducted every three years and provides a moment-in-time snapshot of homelessness.

Most notably there’s been a big increase in shelter spaces. Where 225 persons stayed in an official shelter on the night of the 2017 count, 381 persons were living sheltered in 2020, a 70 per cent increase.

However, the number of persons living outside or in a car, van or camper, also increased, from 201 persons in 2017 to 385 persons in 2020, a 91 per cent increase.

READ MORE: Chilliwack has highest number of homeless in B.C.


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