The city’s most recent homeless count conducted last week shows a 30 per cent jump in the number of homeless since the same time last year.
In 2014, the total homeless counted was 64, then in 2015 the number was 74, and now that number is at least 101.
“It’s definitely a big jump,” said head homeless counter and Terrace and District Community Services Society case worker Mike Watson of the total, adding that the number is 120 when those who looked homeless, but didn’t respond to the questionnaire, are included.
The survey, carried out April 20 and April 21, was commissioned by the city and organized by TDCSS with the help of six volunteers who are social work students at NWCC and UNBC.
The team walked the streets, the riversides and the city forests, and also visited the homeless and transition shelters, to tabulate the number.
Those who responded to the survey questions were given a carry bag containing various food items. A small reward for filling out the survey, it was also a way for the surveyors to keep track of who they’d counted.
“What strikes me the most,” says Watson, “is we have a lot of people coming up here hoping to get jobs and then with nothing going they end up on the street.”
A total of 51 who responded said they weren’t from Terrace.
Twelve were from Prince Rupert, 11 from Vancouver, nine from the Nass valley, five from Prince George, three from Kitimat, two from Ontario and Quebec, two from Edmonton, and seven from the general Hazelton area including Kitwanga and Gitsegukla.
Another thing that struck Watson was how many of the homeless counted were younger than last year.
Of the total, 11 were between the ages of 19-30; 16 between the ages of 30-40; 14 were between 40-50; 13 between the ages of 50-60 and 11 above the age of 60.
A more detailed breakdown of the numbers will be released by the city at a future date, he said.
The homeless count has proven a fairly important tool, and along with other studies done by the city such as the population count last year (which showed a hidden population not picked up by the provincial tally), it has been a yard stick for societal change in Terrace.
For example, in the debate over the merits of a new homeless emergency shelter opening downtown, the results of increasing homeless numbers have figured into the debate.
The revelations also caused a homelessness task group to be formed by the city.
According to Nicole Sanderson, who participated in this year’s count, one of the most interesting ideas she heard from those she interviewed is having a tent city like they do in Victoria, given that it could be safer and potentially more sanitary than people living scattered in various locations in the woods.
“There has been a lot of tent slashing, and we heard that somebody’s tent was burned,” she said.
There was a need expressed, she said, for “a place where people are allowed to have a tent”.
Meanwhile, in one location located in the woods behind Northern Health which Watson surveyed, there were several piles of excrement just steps away from where three tents were set up.
Another common need expressed on the surveys was for additional shelter space, and places to use a washroom.
“They have to stay on the street too because the Ksan shelter won’t allow you in if you have been drinking and that,” said Watson.
The reason why many end up on the streets after moving here is because “a lot of landlords won’t turn around and rent to two or three people just to cover rental costs,” said Watson.
Another recommendation that popped up was having a year- round extreme weather shelter because of the challenge the homeless have transitioning from living in the woods, said Watson.
The Terrace community has come together in various capacities to examine solutions.
In one recent talk given by Northwest Community College instructor Chris Gee, held during the April edition of the monthly UNBC lecture series, he broke the attendees into groups to brainstorm alternatives to the egregious living conditions faced by homeless in the woods.
More affordable housing was one recommendation that popped up in several groups.
A key public hearing to determine if a permanent extreme weather shelter can open on Lazelle Ave. is being held tonight at 5 p.m. at the Terrace Sportsplex.