According to the 2018 count, 58 per cent of 117 individuals surveyed in the Comox Valley fell into the category of ‘absolute homeless.’ File photo

Data from community counts support British Coumbians experiencing homelessness

The Comox Valley and other B.C. areas conducted community counts Wednesday in an effort to better understand issues to help municipalities and organizations support people experiencing homelessness.

More than 60 volunteers helped with the 24-Hour Homeless Point in Time Count, which kicked off Tuesday, March 10 at the Pidcock and Lilli House shelters in Courtenay.

Starting at 6 a.m. the following day, volunteers hit the streets and visited a variety of locations to survey individuals who are unhoused. Agencies also conducted surveys with clients, and a phone line was available for call-ins.

“I am really proud of our amazing volunteers, donors, agencies and other supporters for making this 24-hour count the most seamless yet,” said event co-ordinator Andrea Cupelli, who is the co-ordinator of the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness. “We spoke to many people from all walks of life, and we thank these folks for sharing their stories with us. The results from the Homeless Count are one of our most powerful tools to advocate for housing needs of the most vulnerable in our community, and the results are also a great stigma-breaking and educational tool on who is homeless and how it can happen to anyone.”

More than 120 people attended a wrap-up event at the Connect Warming Centre on Cliffe Avenue in Courtenay.

Locally, counts have been conducted in 2016 and 2018. In the latter, the coalition surveyed 117 homeless individuals in the Valley. Of these, 58 per cent fell into the category of ‘absolute homeless,’ defined as living in public spaces, emergency shelters or public facilities. The other 42 per cent were ‘hidden homeless,’ those who couch-surf or live in temporary accommodations.

The 2018 count found that seniors comprised 29 per cent of the homeless population in the Comox Valley. Likewise, the first provincial homeless count in 2018 found that 20 per cent of all survey respondents across B.C. were 55 years and older.

Official numbers for 2020 won’t be known until the fall. BC Housing and the Homelessness Services Association of BC conduct the data analysis. The two agencies provided funds to 16 B.C. communities to conduct counts. Another 12 communities received federal and independent funds to complete counts.

Data will be used to improve supports and services, to measure progress in addressing homelessness, and to increase public awareness.

A report from the 2018 homeless count stated that at least 7,655 people in B.C. were experiencing homelessness. Indigenous peoples and former youth in care are significantly over-represented in the homeless population.

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