photos: The Victoria homeless camp outside the courthouse in January. Photo: Jamila Douhaibi.

Victoria homeless count shows shocking results

Director's Corner: Victoria's first-ever count of homeless people reveals staggering number

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I did more than a few double takes going through the Greater Victoria homeless count figures. Released in late April, More Than a Number: 2016 Greater Victoria Point in Time Count Summary, counted 1,387 homeless people. For Victoria’s first homeless count in more than a decade*, the numbers are nothing short of shocking.

For starters, the 1,387 number is an undercount (one advocate suggested the number is closer to 1,700-1,800). Like all point-in-time homeless counts, it misses the hundreds of “hidden homeless”—those sleeping in cars, on couches, or those that simply don’t want to be found.

In a region of just under 350,000 people, it is a staggeringly high number, representing 0.4 per cent of the population. If the same balance held in Greater Vancouver, there’d be 9,600 homeless people counted (the 2014 Metro Vancouver count found 2,777 people experiencing homelessness).

Digging deeper, the survey found that 33.6 per cent of the homeless population identify as aboriginal, despite aboriginal people making up just five per cent of the region’s population. It is a number that carries the weight of thousands of years of colonization and screams discrimination and injustice.

Further, an astounding 17.5 per cent of the region’s homeless population are youth and children. Just so you get a sense of the hole this puts people in, 36.9 per cent of the respondents said they were 18 years old or younger when they first became homeless.

Homelessness can entrap people for life.

Finally, there’s a couple of numbers that seem directly intended to dispel the hateful myths homeless people face: 72 per cent of respondents say they’ve been in Greater Victoria for more than a year (with 87 per cent saying they’re from British Columbia) and 90.8 per cent of respondents said they want permanent housing.

Homelessness is a local problem.

People are not coming from across the country to be homeless here. The people living in the shelters and out on the streets and camps are from our community. And they want what we all want: safe, secure, affordable housing.

Most shocking was how little noise this excellent report made. Right in the throes of a provincial-wide housing crisis and smack in the middle of a controversial homeless camp, this report should have landed with a bang, shaking up senior levels of government and silencing those who somehow view people experiencing homeless as entitled.

Perhaps it’s because we expected these results or because people are becoming more entrenched in their beliefs, but we ignore these numbers at our own peril—a lack of action will only make matters worse for Victoria and British Columbia.

May’s announcement that the province and Capital Region District have combined $60 million to build affordable and supportive housing in the region is a great first step. But much more needs to be done. And we need to hear a plan from the provincial government about how it intends to fully solve this crisis, both in Victoria and across the province.

A big thank you
Finally, I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who supported our crowdfunding campaign to hire a homelessness reporter (see page 31). We were blown away by how quickly we reached our goal, raising $18,345 in just three weeks—which shows how much the homelessness crisis resonates with our readers.

We’re really excited to produce a series of solutions-focused features on ending homelessness in British Columbia and will keep you updated on this important project both in the magazine and online.

 

*Correction (June 13, 12:16 pm): The original article stated the recent homeless count was Victoria's first ever. The Victoria Cool Aid Society performed a six-hour homeless count in 2005, finding 668 people experiencing homelessness. 

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