Addictions and affordable housing continue to impact the number of homeless in Terrace, according to this year’s homeless count.
Overall, 96 people were found homeless on the day of the study, April 18, a 28 per cent increase over the past four years’ averages. Allowing for the multiple answers for some questions, the study also found 46 per cent cited high rents as the main barrier to housing, 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 72 respondents identified as Indigenous.
While the count is approximate to last year’s result, the study’s authors warn the point-in-time study cannot account for the homeless not visible on the day of the count.
“This is a minimum baseline number,” said Chris Gee, homeless count manager and NWCC instructor.
“There are definitely people who are homeless who were not included in the count. We also have this category of the hidden homeless. These are people that are not downtown, that are in an apartment with five other people, or squished into a place with three other families. Technically they’re considered homeless, but they’re couch surfing, or crashing, or anything where we’ll never see them to include them in the count. So what’s important with this 96-person figure is that it’s just the visible homeless, just the people we were able to find in a 24-hour period.”
The city started conducting an annual homeless count in 2014 when 67 people identified themselves as homeless. In 2015, it was 73 persons, and in 2016, it was 113 persons. In 2017, the count decreased to 63.
The City of Terrace’s survey this year was contracted to Northwest Community College’s community development class with students in the social work diploma program. It also marked the first year the count adopted the BC Housing Survey Tool employed by other communities and the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy. Using uniform questions and guidelines helps create a map of homelessness that can stand up to direct comparisons and rigorous data interpretation, Gee said. In order to achieve that uniformity, communities must abide by the rule to disqualify anyone not visible, who refused to participate, or was hesitant in acknowledging their homelessness.
The count serves as a benchmark measurement, to which Gee related this year’s 96 homeless to the tip of an iceberg, Gee told city council last week presenting the findings.
Councillor Stacey Tyers suggested via telephone the number of hidden homeless may be as high as 400-per-cent.
In terms of visible homelessness Gee feels the report offers valuable insights for the city and other agencies to act upon. He said there’s a misconception visible homelessness stems from other communities, where the problem naturally gravitates to larger centres like Terrace. However the study found 67 per cent have lived here for more than five years; 41 per cent have been here more than 10 years.
Thirty-eight people declined to answer the question. Mayor Carole Leclerc and Councillor Michael Prevost asked why that number was higher than previous years, and whether the data was reliable.
“One of the most important questions for us, as a council, is where people are from,” Prevost said. “Where are the gaps in services that are bringing people to this community.”
Gee was confident with the findings, saying in order to be a part of the larger data picture in the province it was necessary to use the B.C. Housing survey tool and honour the restrictions of plying answers from unwilling participants.
He later told the Terrace Standard council is right to want a clear picture of the problem, but the survey is also designed to be highly conservative in its results.
“The provincial count occurs every three years but in Terrace it’s every one year. So there’s obviously a political will to understand what’s going on,” he said. “With the tightening of the methodology this year I honestly thought it would be lower, but we’re still in the top range. I was surprised.”