Port Alberni’s first official homeless count yielded 73 anonymous surveys from people without housing—fewer than organizers anticipated.
The count was conducted Nov. 22. Based on the federal government’s “point in time” methodology, the count was completed over a 17-hour period with 32 volunteers operating three survey stations and periodically walking several routes that are known as areas where homelessness is evident.
“The number was a bit lower than I was expecting,” said Terry Deakin, AVCSI project coordinator. “Primarily because we didn’t count the people who were in the shelter or transition houses.”
Although they counted fewer than 100 people, Deakin said the number is significant. “The unsheltered population is higher than what I anticipated,” she said.
The surveys included several questions designed to gather data regarding the “sheltered homeless”—those people living in shelters or transitional housing—and “unsheltered homeless”—those living in vehicles, public spaces, or other areas not fit for human habitation.
“A snapshot of our sheltered and unsheltered homeless does not provide the whole picture of homelessness in the Valley, but it does provide a platform from which the community can gain an understanding and pull together to address the needs of the homeless population,” Deakin said.
Some of the count’s highlights include:
• 75 per cent of those surveyed did not have a permanent residence to return to that night and four per cent were not sure, for a total of 59 individuals with no home; the other 19 per cent were in unstable apartments or sleeping on couches with family.
• There are a higher number of males, with 61 per cent of respondents being male and 31 per cent being female. Three respondents reported a total of 10 children under the age of 14 with them, and only two of those were in a shelter. The largest number in any age group was those between 20 and 35 years of age.
• Prior to the count, the AVCSI assumed Indigenous people were over-represented in the homeless population, and it was “alarming to learn that 71 per cent or 42 of the 59 homeless people indicated an Aboriginal heritage.”
• The majority of Port Alberni’s homeless are from here, with 31 per cent having moved to the Valley within the last year.
• Almost 70 per cent of those without a home, or 40 people, are in receipt of BC Benefits—42 per cent on regular income Assistance and 26 per cent on disability benefits; and 12 per cent (or seven people) panhandle or do odd jobs.
• The top reasons cited for becoming homeless are: conflict or physical/ emotional abuse; substance use/ abuse; eviction for failure to pay rent or other reasons; illness or medical issues; and job loss.
Survey results will be used to attract funding for housing projects, Deakin said.
“It was a good first start. I was really pleased with the support of volunteers in the community. It gives us a foundation on which to build; it gives us some idea of the demographic of individuals who are homeless.”
She hopes it will be the impetus for a community group to come up with a project to help ease homelessness in the Alberni Valley.
“Our homeless population needs the community to work together to secure safe and stable homes, as well as services to address food security, addictions and substance abuse, mental and physical health issue, trauma counselling, employment services and legal advocacy,” she said.
Deakin hopes to repeat the homeless count in the spring, when the weather is nicer and people are more out and about. “It would be easier to get (people),” she said. “I would also like to include the hidden homeless, people couch surfing.”