Results from a provincial report that gathered data from 24 separate homeless counts, including Terrace, was released earlier this week.
This is the first time a provincial count has been held in B.C., and the first time Terrace has been a part of the larger data picture. It revealed that Terrace has one of the highest per capita rates in northwest B.C. for communities with similar population numbers.
Approximately 0.82 per cent of Terrace’s 11,643 residents struggle to find sustainable housing. Prince Rupert’s numbers stand at 0.60 per cent, with Smithers at 0.26 per cent.
Minister of social development and poverty reduction Shane Simpson told the Terrace Standard the ministry recognizes there isn’t a broad brush they can use when it comes to homelessness initiatives, and the involvement of municipalities like Terrace will help build a strategy catered to individual community needs.
“We know that we need to have a strategy that absolutely focuses on smaller communities like Terrace, that works closely with the people in the community, local government and service providers, who know the community better than we know it as a provincial government,” Simpson says.
The provincial data found 7,655 people are homeless across B.C., 37 per cent of whom are regularly living on the street and not in shelter spaces.
The staggering statistic includes 219 children under the age of 19 who were accompanied by a parent or guardian at the time of the count.
The three main barriers to accessing housing by those spoken to during the counts were high rents, low incomes and a lack of available, suitable housing, according to the report. Mental health, addiction and lack of supports after aging out of foster care were other key issues.
Provincially, more than half of respondents, or 56 per cent, reported battling addiction, while 58 per cent reported having two or more health conditions.
Nearly 30 per cent of those counted had been in foster care or a youth group home. About 40 per cent were on income assistance, and 29 per cent were relying on disability benefits to get by. Nearly 20 per cent said they were employed.
Indigenous people are also over-represented, the report found, making up 38 per cent of the total number of those without housing.
The provincial government says the report serves as a baseline for B.C.’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy, which is expected to be released in 2019.
In order to be a part of the study, Terrace had to use the B.C. Housing survey tool and honour the restrictions of getting answers from unwilling participants.
Overall, 96 people were noted homeless on April 18 in Terrace, a 28 per cent increase over the past four years’ averages.
The top three barriers to finding housing in Terrace were myriad, but had 46 per cent of people saying the rent was too high, followed by low income at 34 per cent, and addictions at 31 per cent — 50 per cent admitted to living with addictions in general.
Of those who identified as homeless, 77 per cent were men primarily between the ages of 25 and 54 years old. Eighty-six per cent of the 72 respondents identified as Indigenous.
The data gathered from smaller communities has shown how diverse the issue is across B.C., says Simpson.
“What works in Vancouver or Victoria isn’t necessarily going to work in Terrace,” he says. “We want to make sure we have a good of a picture as we can of the local situation, and then we’re going to do these counts every couple years and hopefully be able to track the progress that we’re making.”