The City of Terrace will be counting the city’s homeless population in April at a date to be set once it hears back from the provincial government as to pandemic protocols it should follow.
It’ll be a ‘point-in-time’ methodology conducted over a 24-hour period and intended to count the visible homeless.
The city will be contracting out the count and in the past has used one of the local social services agencies and students from Coast Mountain College, says city planner Tara Irwin.
Since 2014 the City of Terrace has conducted annual homeless counts to better understand the situation and to collect data to then lobby the provincial government for assistance, she said.
In 2014, the count identified 67 people as homeless, a figure rising to 73 in 2015 and to 113 in 2016, dropping to 63 in 2017 and rising against to 96 in 2018, followed by another drop to 71 in 2019.
Almost 45 per cent of the homeless surveyed in 2019 were under the age of 25, marking a shift in the age group of people experiencing homelessness in Terrace.
There was no homeless count last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Irwin acknowledged that the counts may not include people living in shelters or those couch surfing or otherwise in very temporary lodgings.
However, she said, that in smaller communities like Terrace, agencies that conduct the survey often know the population of people experiencing homelessness more or less. As a result the numbers are not often far off the mark.
Amanda Owens, executive director of Ksan Society – which was also slated to conduct the 2020 count for the city – said that it is always a good idea to have a count even if the data is not 100 per cent accurate since it gives service providers something on which to build.
The count is not just to lobby for housing and infrastructure but also to increase mental health services in town, which according to Owens is lacking in this area. “Most of these services are too far away.”
Based on her observations, Owens said that there has been a significant behavioral shift in the homeless population in the city, in terms of witnessing more substance abuse, drug use and more violence among the clientele who access their shelters and services.
“Providing services is not the same as it used to be before,” she said and added, that staff are now dealing more with “drug users” who tend to be more aggressive and unpredictable than “drinkers.”
Since the last official count in 2019, the provincial government has expanded housing here by spending $10 million to install 52 modular living units at a complex called Sonder House at the eastern end of Olson Ave., behind the main Northern Health building. It’s being run by the Ksan Society.
And the province provided the money to convert the former Cedars Motel adjacent to the Sandman Inn into 21 independent living units. The cost was more than $2 million and the facility is being run by the Terrace and District Community Services Society.
With files from Rod Link