Volunteers with the 2020 Homeless Count were trained to adopt a respectful and compassionate approach as they took to the streets of Chilliwack on March 3 and March 4.
Volunteer Ian Carmichael looked down at his ‘Homeless Count’ identification sticker at one point during his Tuesday shift, and it struck him it could have a dual meaning.
“I realized it could mean counting the actual numbers of people, but it could also mean that homeless people matter,” Carmichael said. “I can’t help but be aware of just how close many of us are to ending up in this situation. All it might take for some is one major car repair, or a sudden job loss.”
The goal of the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) ‘Point in Time Count’ is getting the most accurate count possible of those who do not have adequate housing whether they be in shelters, in camps, or on the street. It is not an exhaustive count of every single person living rough, but rather a 24-hour snapshot of what is going on.
Part of the count goal is also about raising public awareness in the community about the interrelated issues of homelessness, substance use and the lack of affordable housing.
The 2020 count results will be compiled by local count organizers PCRS, in co-operation with partners MCC and FVRD. The data will help government, agencies and organizations substantiate funding requests and more.
One of the first people Carmichael interacted with asked him what the count was all about. Turns out the individual was couch surfing at a friend’s place. He told the guy that couch-surfers were among the hardest folks to find.
“They’re hidden but they need their voices heard. If they don’t know you’re out there, they can’t help,” Carmichael recounted.
Overall, he was struck by the openness of those he interviewed anonymously for the count.
Participants were asked if they had a safe place to stay, their income sources, health challenges and more.
“There’s a lot of pride in the community,” Carmichael noted. “The people I engaged with last night understand they have issues and problems, and would really like a way out.”
The last count in 2017 saw 221 self-identify as homeless in Chilliwack, which represented as massive increase compared to the 73 folks counted in 2014.
FVRD Chair Jason Lum underlined at the time that homelessness is one of the “most pressing issues” in the region – and across the country. It still is.
Since 2018, Chilliwack officials, in partnership with agencies have been striving to made a dent in the problem. Many new housing units have been built, from local supportive housing (90) and affordable housing (80) of various types, to a recent expansion of shelter beds, women’s shelter spaces, boosted outreach and support services.
Carmichael said Chilliwack is clearly making progress in creating housing and helping people leave the streets, but the final numbers from the 2020 count will tell the story when they’re made public.
“There’s been a co-ordinated effort at all levels of government, and across the political spectrum, to address the issues,” Carmichael noted. “It’s obvious from all the new projects completed and operational across Chilliwack as a direct result of that inter-governmental co-operation.”
The Homeless Count is a positive and useful tool, he added.
“If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” Carmichael concluded.
The 2020 count went ahead on the evening of March 3, and into the evening of March 4.
A training session was held at Council Chambers at City Hall on February 27 for volunteers.
Results will be compiled and a report forthcoming from the FVRD in the coming weeks.
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