The main organizer of a homeless count planned for next week, the second in as many years, expects this year’s tally to be higher than last year’s figure of 64 people.
“I think it is worse than last year,” said Mike Watson, a case worker at the Terrace and District Community Services Society (TDCSS). “Last year was when it all started to happen, when everything was starting to boom around here and the rents went up.”
Watson said he increasingly can’t find apartments for his clients because subsidized housing units are full and wait lists are long.
Joining him for the homeless count will be his TDCSS coworker and Northwest Community College Social Work graduate Julie Mahil along with six volunteers for the count which has the support of the city.
The count is scheduled for April 21 and 22 which are the first days of the month when income assistance cheques are made available.
“People who are living in the bush come into town that day,” said Watson.
People without an address collect less – $200 – than the $620 for recipients who do have one, he said.
The counting team will also check spots along the railway tracks and in the woods where homeless stay, asking each individual questions on a form that they fill out which records gender, age and other data.
Watson said this year the team will try to better record the number of homeless youth whom he says are frequently couch-surfing and might not be in the local shelters and soup kitchens where much of the homeless count is done.
City planner Tara Irwin said the information itself will be valuable to use in future discussions about housing and provides comparative data for last year’s count.
She said it might help guide the use of city resources such as the $500,000 the city has tucked away in an account available for subsidized housing plans.
This money is reserved by the city for potential partnerships with developers aimed at the affordable housing market.
“Is it for the actual homeless, or is it for transitional housing, where is this fund best spent and on what kind of housing, because of course there is a big continuum of need,” said Irwin.
The homeless count is financed by the city – $2,500 was spent last year and about $1,500 has been set aside this year.
“We can’t understand a problem unless we know what we are dealing with. It’s an attempt to get a better understanding of homeless situation in our community and have that data available,” said Irwin of the count. And Watson has been hearing about a city-led plan to bolster affordable housing stock in Terrace, and hopes the study will provide the hard data needed to move things forward.
“We are hoping they will respond by building some more affordable housing or trying to get some freed up so people will have a place to live before next winter. They said last year it was in the works, we will have to see if what was said will actually happen,” said Watson of the city and the provincial BC Housing agency.