The number of people living on the streets in the Tri-Cities jumped sharply in the last three years, according to data released Monday by Metro Vancouver.
But Sandy Burpee, the chair of the Tri-Cities Homelessness Task Group, said while homelessness continues to be an issue in this region, the dramatic increase may be attributed to how people were counted in 2017.
The Metro report found that 117 people are living on the streets in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody — that’s up 113% from the 55 counted in 2014.
Burpee noted, however, that previous counts have likely been under-reporting the actual totals.
He told The Tri-City News the permanent shelter at 3030 Gordon Ave. in Coquitlam, which was not open when the last survey was conducted three years ago, concentrates homeless people in the facility and makes it much easier for them to be counted.
Burpee added that because of the cold temperatures on the night of the count, which took place in early March, an additional 33 people took advantage of the extreme weather beds at the shelter.
“Had they been on the street, I wouldn’t be surprised if we only counted 15 of them,” he said. “Once they are in the shelter, the numbers are derived from the shelter records.”
Still, Burpee said the number of people living on the street is on the rise and noted the Metro Vancouver figures are consistent with data collected by the Hope For Freedom Society, a homeless outreach organization that operates in the Tri-Cities.
The problem, Burpee said, is the increasing cost of rents and a lack of affordable housing across the region.
“Outreach workers are finding now it is five times as difficult to find housing for people on the street than it was a few years ago — and it never was that easy,” he said. “It is virtually impossible now.”
Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay, who is the chair of Metro’s Housing Committee, said counting homeless people is not an exact science. The counts fluctuate from year to year and it is a difficult population to measure, he told The Tri-City News.
Still, he said he believes the increase in the overall numbers is partly attributed to the growth seen in the Tri-Cities over the last few years.
“As we get more urban, it is a friendlier place for people who are living on the streets,” he said. “We have a fair number of social services, including those that have come on at 3030 Gordon.”
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said the rise of homelessness in the Tri-Cities in 2017 is likely due to the fact that the numbers were unusually low in 2014 and 2011. He also concurred with Burpee’s assessment, adding, “When you have a shelter, the first 60 are easy to count.”
The preliminary data released Monday found that across Metro Vancouver, the total number of homeless people in 2017 is 3,605, up 30% from three years ago. Of that total, 1,032 were unsheltered while 2,573 were either in emergency weather shelters, general homeless shelters or had no fixed address.
The majority of the homeless people counted were between 25 and 64 years of age but 8% were under 19 and another 8% were between 19 and 24. Accompanied children made up 117 of the total.