Preliminary results indicate homelessness in Burnaby has increased by 80% since 2017, but a service provider says that could simply be a more accurate count this time around.
An interim report released by the Vancity Foundation this week shows a total of 124 people were identified in the March homeless count this year. It’s the first such homeless count in the city since 2017, when a total of 69 people were found, according to a Metro Vancouver report from that count.
Among those counted this year, 19 were categorized as unsheltered, while eight were counted in an emergency weather response shelter, 86 were in shelters and 11 were categorized as “no fixed address,” meaning they were in jail, in hospital or in detox facilities.
Since 2017’s homeless count, the City of Burnaby has begun operating warming centres, shelters that operate through the winter months.
Carol-Ann Flanagan, coordinator with the city’s task force to end homelessness and a coordinator of the city’s homeless count, said that has made it easier to find homeless individuals during the count.
“Even though we're up 80%, it’s a much better and more realistic count than 2017 was,” Flanagan said.
Even then, she said this year’s figure was “definitely an undercount.”
In fact, it’s generally anticipated that all homeless counts, often referred to as “snapshots” because they only reflect a single day’s effort, do not show the whole picture. This is because of the natural challenge in finding every homeless person in the city and counting them, especially during a one-day count.
During this year’s count, Flanagan said the city’s warming centres only counted people who stayed overnight and didn’t include those who came in for a hot meal and drink and left. The warming centres counted 38 of those in shelters, according to Flanagan.
She also noted the weather and a number of other issues can affect the number of people found during the homeless counts. This year’s count was done on the night spanning March 3 to March 4, and Flanagan noted that was a particularly cold evening. As a result, the extreme weather shelter was open, and more people were likely identified that way.
Outreach workers were also sent out during the day to places where they know homeless camps are located because most of those camps are “off the beaten trail.” But while they found tents at those locations, nobody was around to be counted, Flanagan noted.
“So there you’ve got a bunch of homeless people that (are) not counted, unless they’re in with some of the people that our volunteers found on the streets,” she said.
The homeless counts also typically fail to capture those who are couch surfing, often referred to as the “hidden homeless.”
Flanagan said she would personally like to see homeless counts stretched out over several days – particularly for children and youths. Only 54 people under 19 were counted this year throughout Metro Vancouver, which Flanagan said was “so undercounted.”
“All of the (school) counsellors in … Burnaby were trained on how to do the count, how to do the survey and everything else. But they can’t go after the kids to ask them. The kids have to come to the counsellors,” Flanagan said, adding that applies as well to youth centres.
“If the kids don’t come in that particular day, even though you know they’re homeless … they don’t get counted.”