The Province is teaming up with groups in 12 different communities this spring to conduct homeless counts, including one in Smithers.
The purpose is to help inform B.C.’s homelessness action plan, which will focus on permanent housing and services.
In a press release from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction it said homelessness has long been an urban issue. But over the last few years, smaller communities have seen increases in the number of people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, due to high housing costs and lack of affordable housing.
The count will happen on April 17 in Smithers. It will be funded by the Province and run by local area count coordinator Dawn Hanson. She said this is a great opportunity for Smithers because a count was done a couple of years ago and it may help with comparing numbers.
The Smithers Action Group (SAGA) conducted a homeless count in 2014 and found 22 people were without homes. That same report discovered that of those 22 people, 92 per cent they interviewed identified as Aboriginal while only 12 per cent of the overall population in Smithers identifies as Aboriginal.
“They did a great job on that count and the methodology they used is similar to the ones we will use. We are looking forward to the data being very comparable, in terms of being able to look at demographics, being able to look at support people need and barriers to houses that people face,” said Hanson.
“The challenge with the count they did was that they did it on a very cold November day. It makes it difficult to connect with people. People may not have been included in the count. If the numbers are going to be the same? Not sure but when you talk to service providers around they say there are a heck of a lot more homeless people than 22.”
Hanson added that the work SAGA did and the homeless count they did was really pivotal in getting the complex challenge of homelessness in Smithers on the map and on the radar of the council.
The count this year also includes an anonymous 28 question survey.
“By doing it anonymously, we get specific data about individuals and the challenges they are facing. For instance, is it a financial barrier, is it availability, or is the person struggling with addictions? You can kind of understand the issue of homelessness in a bit more detail without being so invasive of people’s privacy,” she said.
“And of course, if you understand it better, you can dig down and find ways to address it.”
While she said this new data will be helpful to better understand the underlining issues, it isn’t a perfect system.
“It is known that this is an undercount. You aren’t going to reach everybody and that is just the challenge with having a 24-hour window,” she said.
She is now looking for volunteers to help with the upcoming count.
“People that have been involved in homeless counts in the past are a great asset because they know the process a bit and people who have experienced homelessness before are also great volunteers,” she said. “I think we’ll have about 12-14 volunteers.”
People interested in helping out can contact Hanson directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Province hopes to release preliminary findings from the counts in all 12 communities in early summer. The Action Plan is slated to be available later this year.