Nearly 70 per cent of Terrace’s homeless people surveyed by social work students said they struggle with at least one form of addiction.
The City of Terrace’s 2019 survey of members of the city’s homeless community was conducted by first- and second-year social work diploma students from Coast Mountain College and third-year social work students from the University of Northern British Columbia.
Presenting the results of the survey to the City’s councillors on Monday night, homeless count participant and report presenter Courtney Costain said medical issues also feature strongly as some of the homeless community’s biggest challenges.
“Many of those who are experiencing homelessness are also experiencing health problems, with 69 per cent of respondents reporting they are struggling with addiction issues. Half of all respondents reported medical conditions and 43 per cent reported a physical disability,” says Costain.
For the 2019 survey, the students counted 71 people who identified as homeless in Terrace between April 7 and 8. In 2018 the students counted 96 people who were found homeless on April 18, a 28 per cent increase in the number of homeless people counted over the past four years’ averages.
A startling 45 per cent of homeless people surveyed were youths under 25, while seniors over 55 made up only eight per cent of those surveyed.
Costain cautioned that as the survey only ran for 24 hours the number of homeless people counted was not an accurate reflection of the total number of homeless people on Terrace’s streets.
“There are likely more people experiencing homelessness than included in the report. The numbers appear to be down from last year, but this is not because of a decrease in homelessness in our city,” says Costain.
The survey did not include the city’s hidden homeless population, or people who have access to accommodation but have no access to permanent or stable housing. This includes those who may become homeless throughout the year, those who declined to participate in the survey, or those who were hidden from surveyors at the time of the count.
Breakdown of homeless count
LNG Canada’s project in Kitimat was cited as one of the main reasons people became homeless in 2019 as a result of a lack of housing. Other reasons mentioned included high utility rates, family breakups and landlord restrictions, which could be referring to rules like no-smoking or pet policies.
Only 22 of the 71 people surveyed said they had had access to shelter in 2019, compared to the five year average of 36 people. Of those surveyed, 49 said they had no shelter, compared to a five year average of 35 — that’s a 40 per cent increase in homeless people without shelter over a five-year period.
“This means the number of sheltered homeless decreased by 14 [people], and the number of unsheltered homeless increased by 14,” says Tiana Walker, another survey participant and report presenter. Sheltered homeless are those that do not have access to sustainable or permanent housing, who resort to temporary solutions like couch-surfing or staying in shelters.
Out of 56 respondents, only 20 per cent reported being in Terrace for less than a year, with 73 per cent of homeless people in Terrace having been in the city for five years or more.
Of the 71 people surveyed, 55 told students where they were originally from, listing 28 communities in B.C., Alberta, and as far away as Nova Scotia. Ten people, or 18 per cent, reported being from Terrace.
Out of 60 respondents, 49 people identified as Indigenous, representing 82 per cent of that total. Of these individuals, 73 per cent said they had been homeless for one or more years.
OF those surveyed, 61 per cent of those who identified as homeless were men, and 38 per cent were female, with one respondent identifying as two-spirited (the term two-spirit refers to a person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit, and is used by some Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity).
High rents were cited by 51 per cent of the respondents as the largest barrier to finding housing, with 35 per cent reporting a lack of livable income, and 18 per cent citing mental health issues and addictions.
“All respondents reported multiple barriers,” Walker says.
Most of respondents, 64 per cent, said they had accessed the city’s various soup kitchens and meal programs. More than half of those surveyed said they had used emergency, non-emergency and ambulance services on a regular basis.
Costain said there were some challenges that may have impacted the collection of data – there weren’t enough volunteers and the students didn’t have a lot of time to complete the study.
In addition, Ksan Society’s Turning Points extreme weather shelter was closed and there was an increase of security presence throughout the downtown core. Other homeless people chose not to complete the survey because they hadn’t seen any improvements as a result of their participation in previous years.
No data was collected from the RCMP or Mills Memorial Hospital to gauge the number of people sheltered in hospital or the RCMP’s cells overnight, but that does not mean there weren’t people experiencing homeless inside these locations at the time of the count, Costain says.
“It may have been a lack of staff or time constraints as surveyors had left the questionnaires with the RCMP and hospital staff due to confidentiality reasons.”
In terms of visible homelessness, the presenters say they felt the report offers invaluable insights for the city and other agencies to act on.
“Regardless of how long these individuals have been living in homelessness within the City of Terrace, they are still citizens. They deserve our attention,” Walker says. “This is not just an issue for social workers, this concerns all of us.”
Council thanked the presenters for their report. Coun. Sean Bujtas asked if a person living at the supportive housing complex Sonder House would be considered homeless.
The housing project had not opened yet at the time of the study, but Walker says residents there are required to pay a monthly rental fee.