Jonquil Hallgate, executive director at the Surrey Urban Mission, says local shelters are seeing a rise in the numbers of middle-aged and older South Asian men.
“We’re seeing more people from the Indo-Canadian community that are homeless — seniors with addiction issues who once upon a time were perhaps cared for in the family,” said Hallgate. “But they have such needs that families are no longer able to manage within the family unit the way they once did.”
Other majority groups of homeless include aboriginals and youth, who are not always able to find shelter space in Surrey. In fact, Hallgate said 30 per cent of the young people staying at Covenant House in Vancouver are Surrey youth.
Such displacement of the homeless can skew statistics to make the problem seem less acute than it really is, Hallgate said.
Volunteers began conducting a count of the homeless on Tuesday, March 11. The count – which takes place every three years – provides a snapshot of people who are homeless, both on the street and in shelters or other temporary accommodation.
The first part of the count was a survey of people going into shelters or hospital emergency rooms, being released from jail, and those who are temporarily incarcerated.
On March 12, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., a team of 200 volunteers will be canvassing the city to survey people who they believe may be homeless.
“The citizens of Surrey, a lot of them are somehow connected to the issue around homelessness,” said Susan Keeping, co-ordinator of the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Task Force. “They’ve really stepped up to donate three hours of their time to interview people who may or may not be homeless.”
The people approached will be given a survey created through a Metro Vancouver initiative.
“People will be asked a certain number of questions,” said Keeping. “If we find them to actually be homeless, then there’s more questions that go beyond that.”
Hallgate said she worries about the count being inaccurate.
“We know that in Surrey – and I think it’s been identified across the region – that the number of people that actually end up being counted in that 24-hour period is an under-count,” said Hallgate. “And that’s because not everybody chooses to be counted. Not everybody wants to acknowledge that they’re homeless.”
Hallgate attributed the denial to personal pride.
“It’s a pretty hard thing to acknowledge.”
There are also many homeless people with serious health issues. Aside from mental health and addictions issues, there are people with cancer, heart problems or who may be in need of joint replacements, Hallgate said.
Hospital waiting lists can be very long and without a proper address and a phone number, it can be difficult to reach those people, she noted.