Victoria homeless count volunteers overwhelmed by stories

Volunteers surveyed 453 people without shelter, sleeping mostly in doorways, parks, vehicles and on the lawn of the Victoria courthouse, on Wednesday night.

The 12-hour count, funded by Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy and initiated by the previous federal government, was part of a national effort to establish the number of homeless people at a fixed point of time. It marks the first time a co-ordinated count has been held across the country using the same methodology.

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The 453 only represents those who were surveyed.

More than 200 volunteers took part and were overwhelmed by the stories they heard, said Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, spokeswoman for the Point in Time Count. People told of how they came to be homeless after a history in foster care, mental-health problems, family breakdown and abuse, she said.

Homeless people were paid $5 to answer the surveys, she said.

“The numbers are only preliminary,” Thornton-Joe said, noting that they are still waiting for numbers from some shelters, transitional programs, emergency rooms and police lockups.

Surveys that were expected to take no more than 10 minutes often took 30 minutes once participants’ stories began pouring out, Thornton-Joe said. The first question asked was: “Do you have a place to sleep tonight?” If the answer was yes, the surveyors moved on.

Thornton-Joe said she hopes the results, which will be analyzed for age, gender and other factors, will persuade the federal government to fund a national housing strategy to deal with homelessness.

Most of the count took place in Victoria, along with pockets of Saanich and Esquimalt.

“It was quite a process,” Thornton-Joe said, with volunteers assigned streets to seek out everyone they could find.

Meanwhile, Rev. Logan McMenamie of Christ Church Cathedral, located opposite the Victoria courthouse lawn and the tent city that has been erected there, is calling for B.C.’s premier to meet face to face with the campers so she understands what is needed in the long run.

“We want to highlight again the need for long-term solutions to both poverty and homelessness within the city and the province,” he said in a statement on behalf of the Anglican Diocese of B.C.

“What we have discovered there is a strong sense of community, a positive self-identity, and a dream for a piece of land where they can build homes of their choosing.”

Advocate Stephen Portman of Together Against Poverty said he didn’t think Christy Clark would be meeting with the campers, “but good for the bishop.”

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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