Lower Mainland homelessness increasing four times faster than population growth

Greg Moore

THE 2017 Report on Homelessness in the Lower Mainland represents the first time that the Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley communities have jointly planned and implemented a Homeless Count, sharing the data and collaboratively analysing and reporting on it.

This final report combines, compares and contrasts information from 2017 Homeless Counts in the Metro Vancouver Regional District (MVRD) and the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) to examine the diversity and extent of homelessness throughout the region.

The homeless population in the Fraser Valley is more likely to be young, female and suffering from an addiction, medical condition or mental illness compared with those in Metro Vancouver, according to the research.

The report found overall homelessness across the Lower Mainland rose by 40 per cent since 2011, with 4,211 individuals tallied during the overnight count on March 7 and 8. Of those, 3,605 were found in Metro Vancouver, with half, or 2,138, located in the City of Vancouver. Comparatively, there were 606 homeless in the Fraser Valley overall.

“This report underscores the dire need for affordable housing and strategies to combat homelessness, which we know extends beyond Metro Vancouver urban centres,” said Greg Moore, Chair of Metro Vancouver. “The underlying root causes of homelessness may be different across the Lower Mainland but it all boils down to one thing: people deserve a safe and affordable place to live.”

Surrey, Abbotsford, Chilliwack and the City and Township of Langley also saw significant increases in the number of people living on the street or in shelters. One third of those surveyed were unsheltered during the Count, while seven per cent stayed in an extreme weather response shelter and 60 per cent were in some other form of shelter.

“We know that those who live outside are frustrated. We know that our communities are frustrated,” said FVRD Board Chair Jason Lum. “And, while many of us in the Fraser Valley are seeing progress in terms of increased shelter spaces, expanded outreach and support programs, we’re still a long way away from adequately addressing the problem. The final results from the 2017 survey underscore the urgency in working together to tackle this complicated issue.”

The increased rate of homelessness across the Lower Mainland is in stark contrast to the population, which grew at a rate of between three and 11 per cent from 2011 to 2016. The crisis is attributed to a variety of causes, including high housing costs, historically low vacancy rates, increasing rents, stagnant welfare rates, economic conditions outside the Lower Mainland and the nature of drugs on the street and gaps in support.

“The homelessness crisis continues to grow in the Lower Mainland despite all efforts and commitments to stem the tide,” said Mike Clay, Chair of Metro Vancouver’s Housing Committee. “This poses significant costs to local municipalities. Simply responding to demands of a homeless person costs taxpayers $55,000 annually compared with $37,000 per person to house them.”

In the Fraser Valley, nearly half the homeless (47 per cent) were more likely to come from that general area and report an addiction (69 per cent vs. 53 per cent in Metro Vancouver), a medical condition (50 per cent vs. 44 per cent) and a mental illness (48 per cent vs. 38 per cent). They were also more likely to be females or youth under the age of 25. Conversely, in Metro Vancouver, 33 per cent of the homeless were more likely to come from out of province, with a higher incidence of homeless men and seniors living on the streets or in shelters.

People who identify as Indigenous or Aboriginal were overrepresented within the homeless population in both the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver, at 33 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively, while about half the respondents had been homeless for at least one year in both regions.

2017 Report on Homelessness in the Lower Mainland