City of Vancouver cancels annual homeless count for 2nd straight year
The City of Vancouver has cancelled its annual homeless count for the second year in a row.
In a statement, a representative for the city said the 2022 homeless count will not be going ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a need to minimize the risk of transmission.
“[Staff] do not believe it is feasible to implement the count in 2022 given the ongoing challenges arising from the evolving pandemic and will continue to explore alternative data sources in 2022,” it read.
The last City of Vancouver homeless count took place in early March 2020 prior to the start of the pandemic. It found 2,095 residents experiencing homelessness.
The count was cancelled in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vancouver has conducted its own annual count since 2010.
Over the course of a 24-hour period in March, hundreds of volunteers survey people sleeping on the streets and staying in emergency shelters. A voluntary and anonymous questionnaire asks people in shelters how long they have been without a home, as well as their age, gender, ethnicity and health concerns.
The counts offered a point-in-time snapshot of what homelessness looks like in the city.
Nicole Mucci from the Union Gospel Mission says the decision is a disappointing one because it’s not just hard numbers that the count captured.
“These are people with stories and human lives and trauma,” Mucci said.
“Part of the count is really about understanding where each of these individuals are at and how they’ve gotten to where they are and also what barriers they are facing as they try to look towards the future. COVID-19 has changed a lot of things but we don’t know exactly how it has created additional barriers at the same level that we would if we were doing a count.”
Mucci says the Union Gospel Mission, which added 20 extra permanent shelter beds in 2020, cannot keep up with demand.
“We are now in our second COVID winter and we know anecdotally based on the amount of meals we’re giving every day and the shelter spaces that we need and the general need that we’re seeing that homelessness has increased over the last few years, but we aren’t able to say with the same level of certainty that is fact,” she said.
Mucci noted that in the month of November, the shelter had to turn away 100 people, which she called a “devastating number.”
“Our outreach workers were really diligent when they have to turn people away to try and find them alternative places to sleep for the night and it just wasn’t possible some of the nights here in November to find space because there just wasn’t spaces,” she said.
For its part, the City of Vancouver says its staff relied on alternative sources of data to estimate the level of homelessness in the city in 2021, including reviewing shelter occupancy rates, the City of Vancouver’s Homeless Outreach team data, community based data and 311 homeless related cases.
“Based on this review, staff assess that the level of homelessness remains approximately the same and there does not appear to be a reduction in the need for services,” the city’s statement read.
The city said it is, however, planning to participate in the Metro Vancouver homeless count, public health guidelines permitting. The regional count, which is held every three years and covers municipalities from West Vancouver to Langley, is next scheduled for March 2023.