Volunteers dispersed around Port Alberni counting and surveying homeless residents on Tuesday, Nov. 22 to gain a better perspective on the city’s homeless population.
The Alberni Valley Community Stakeholders Initiative to End Homelessness set up stations at various locations around the Valley, each manned with volunteers conducting surveys and observing displaced residents.
One station was assembled across from the Port Alberni Shelter on Eighth Avenue where Kate Walton, assistant and marketing admin at INEO Employment Services was volunteering.
Beginning her shift at 12 p.m., by 2 p.m. Walton had observed five homeless individuals near the shelter and had conducted one survey.
“The people before us had maybe five or six surveys done,” Walton said.
Volunteers had a box of snacks, cigarettes and other resources available for those in need.
The station was set up outside the shelter rather than inside due to privacy reasons, said Wes Hewitt, executive director of the Port Alberni Shelter Society.
“People can come to the shelter and be anonymous,” he said. “We don’t want to subject (clients) to people coming in and wanting to do censuses and questionnaires with them. That’s not how shelters operate,” he said.
“People aren’t happy to be in a shelter and they aren’t proud to be homeless.”
Hewitt was unable to participate in the count this year because of other commitments, but said the shelter society was involved as a stakeholder of the AVCSI.
Port Alberni mayor Mike Ruttan and Scott Fraser, Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA, took time out of their days to volunteer at the shelter location for the homeless count.
“Everyone in this community is someone who we are responsible for, or feel responsible for, and if there are people without homes then we have to work as a city as hard as we can to make sure that there are homes for everyone,” Ruttan said.
Ruttan said the city doesn’t have the financial resources to address the poverty issue in the Alberni Valley all on its own.
“We can work with government agencies and non-profits to begin to address some of those issues,” he said.
“There are lots of people who just say there are X number of homeless in Port Alberni but until we truly do the count we don’t know what the number is.”
Ruttan said Alberni’s homeless count will give the city a better understanding of the true nature of homelessness in the region.
According to the Port Alberni Community Foundation’s 2015 Vital Signs report, in 2013, the overall poverty rate in the Alberni Valley was 18.5 per cent. The 2013 figure was 13 per cent higher than the provincial average and 26.6 per cent higher than the national average.
The child poverty rate in the Alberni Valley in 2013 was 20.8 per cent. Across British Columbia, the 2013 child poverty rate was 20. 4 per cent.
(The BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, was to release the 2016 BC Child Poverty Report Card on Nov. 24, after the News’ deadline.)
Scott Fraser said after his election in 2005, poverty and homelessness in the Alberni Valley became a key issue for his office and ultimately coordinated the Alberni Valley Community Stakeholders Initiative to End Homelessness.
“We have the highest poverty rate in the country here in Alberni-Pacific Rim,” Fraser said. “In B.C. we have the highest child poverty rate in the country. We’re the only province that doesn’t have a poverty reduction strategy and we have been the worst for 10 years.”
Fraser said the provincial government is lacking a presence when it comes to a poverty reduction strategy. “There are agencies that do good work but the political arm of the government are not acknowledging this as a problem.”
Volunteers were out until 1 a.m. Wednesday searching for people.