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Homeless figures explained to City of Powell River Council

Lift Community Services housing services manager outlines qathet region count
CONCRETE DATA: Lift Community Services housing services manager Julie Jenkins outlined a homelessness survey, taken in the qathet region in April, to City of Powell River councillors at a committee of the whole meeting.

qathet region’s homeless figures were recently explained to City of Powell River councillors after a survey was taken in April.

At the October 17 committee of the whole meeting Julie Jenkins, housing services manager at Lift Community Services, said she was appearing before the committee to present the results of the qathet region’s first ever point-in-time homeless count. She said Lift, in partnership with the Homelessness Services Association of British Columbia (HSABC) and several local community partners, conducted the count, which took place on the evening of April 16 and during the daytime of April 17.

“We wanted to have concrete data local to our region that we could share with our municipal partners, such as the city, qathet Regional District, Tla’amin Nation and other groups working with homelessness in the community,” said Jenkins.

She said there was also the desire to provide data to provincial and federal partners to understand what is going on in the community.

“We know what we’ve seen in the streets and what we hear is that the housing crisis in our community is growing,” added Jenkins. “What the point-in-time homeless count does is give us concrete numbers to really understand some of the nuances of what is happening so we can try to get resources in the right direction.”

Jenkins reviewed the 2023 point-in-time homeless count. She said the homeless count in qathet is part of a province-wide initiative that happened in a number of centres between March and early May.

“The count is overseen, designed, enumerated, shared and controlled by HSABC,” said Jenkins. “The homelessness count collects information about who is experiencing homelessness and identifies trends and long-term housing needs in individual communities across the province.”

Numbers not exact

Jenkins said a person is considered homeless if they don’t have a place where they pay rent, where they can expect to stay for the next 30 days. She said it includes people living in vehicles and people who have been evicted and don’t have a place to go at the end of the month.

“It does include people who are couch surfing and people who are staying with family members without a rental agreement,” explained Jenkins.

She said the reported numbers don’t account for everybody who is homeless, but reflect everyone who could be identified and counted in a 24-hour period.

“There is always an undercount for that reason,” said Jenkins.

She said 126 people were identified as experiencing homelessness through the count, with 26 per cent sheltered and 74 per cent unsheltered. Half the people were staying at someone else’s place, 29 per cent were living in vehicles and nine per cent were in a makeshift shelter or tent.

Of the totals, 60 per cent were men and 40 per cent were women. Nine per cent were people under 25, 74 per cent were adults from 25 to 54, and 18 per cent were seniors. A total of 10 per cent identified as 2SLGBTQIA and two per cent identified as having trans experience.

Jenkins said 18 per cent of the respondents identified as Indigenous, compared to six per cent being Indigenous in the census population count.

“We are seeing from national and provincial data from other communities that Indigenous people are vastly overrepresented in the homeless community, and 60 per cent of Indigenous-identifying respondents reported having lived or generational experience with residential school,” said Jenkins.

The survey asked reasons for housing loss, and 41 per cent reported not enough income, 20 per cent had substance use issues, and 20 per cent had landlord-tenant conflicts. In terms of length of time experiencing homelessness, 80 per cent of respondents had been homeless for a year or more and eight per cent had been homeless for fewer than six months.

“That number confirms what a lot of service providers on the ground know; there is a growing homeless population in our community,” said Jenkins. “These numbers offer insight into homelessness in our region and we are hoping that annual data will allow us to track trends over time, so we can be more targeted and evidence-based in what we do for housing and homelessness. There is an urgent need for more housing options in qathet.”

Jenkins said talking about numbers is helpful but there are stories behind those numbers.

“There’s a lot of people who are needing immediate help and there are urgent actions we can take as a community,” added Jenkins.

City councillors had extensive discussion following Jenkins’ presentation. The committee carried a motion that staff be directed to report back on reconvening the city’s housing round table. There was also a motion that staff be directed to report back on suitable options of city spaces as a warming centre and emergency weather response centre.