The trials of living on the edge of homelessness are all-too-familiar for Gail McBride.
She has a close friend who has lived in “derelict” conditions in Whalley for about 20 years, and knows a senior in White Rock who is foregoing medications in order to afford housing.
While those two people, because they are paying rent, don’t meet the criteria of homeless that was used in this week’s 2020 Homeless Count – conducted to gain key information on the estimated number, demographics and needs of Metro Vancouver’s homeless – their situations were prominent in McBride’s decision to once again pitch in.
“He’s like a brother to me,” the South Surrey resident said Wednesday of her friend, as she waited in the White Rock Community Centre to start her shift at Sources’ Women’s Place.
“They still need to get the count and the services for the people. I think the need has increased, unfortunately.”
The count – conducted every three years since 2002 – started Tuesday evening and was scheduled to continue through to midnight March 4 (after Peace Arch News’ press deadline). While Tuesday evening was focused on the region’s shelters, teams of two to three volunteers took to the streets from 6 a.m. Wednesday in an effort to get as complete a picture of the overall situation as possible.
In White Rock/South Surrey, that included attending a handful of community lunch programs, patrolling the waterfront promenade and driving routes that stretched east to 196 Street and north to Highway 10.
Judy Peterson and White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker were among four volunteers to turn out to the community centre at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
The pair was sent to the waterfront, while two others were given an area of uptown White Rock to explore.
Despite their best efforts – and a freezer bag of sundry “offerings” to help break the ice with potential survey participants – Peterson and Walker said they didn’t encounter a single person who met the survey criteria.
The one woman they did approach was sitting down on the beach, with a bag. The interaction was pleasant, starting with an introduction and asking if she had seen anybody who might be homeless.
She said ‘no,’ and went on to explain that she was staying with her brother but that he had had overnight friends and she preferred not to be there.
“We didn’t go any further,” Walker said.
The experience was Walker’s first time participating in a homeless count, although he has done shifts at White Rock’s extreme-weather shelter.
Peterson, who has volunteered at the extreme-weather shelter for the past two years, said her first homeless-count shift was “quite a few years ago” in Surrey, and that she returned this year because “I’m retired, and it’s always been an interest of mine.”
Both said that they didn’t set out Wednesday expecting to find many homeless along their assigned route, in part because they started an hour before the extreme-weather shelter closed for the day, and also because the route didn’t include alleys, vacant homes or parks, as many other areas did.
As well, “this is probably one of the coldest places,” Peterson said.
“There’s spots in White Rock that would be better to go than simply along here,” Walker said, noting local police and fire officials are an important link when it comes to identifying both individuals who are homeless and where they hunker down.
Walker said he signed up for the count to learn more about what is happening in the community – and glean information necessary to advocate for funding to address homelessness.
Hard data that shows the need “is the big selling point,” he said.
One pressing question of late has been, where do those who use the extreme-weather shelter at night go during the day?
Efforts are ongoing to figure that out – an ad hoc discussion was planned for a White Rock coffee shop later Wednesday morning – and to come up with options. Walker said ideas being looked at in White Rock include whether the city has property it can offer for an affordable-housing development, and, can warming shelters be implemented into such projects.
He noted that recently-completed or under-construction developments in the city do not offer a solution.
“None of those buildings are for the people we’re talking about,” he said.
Final results of the 2020 Homeless Count are not expected to be released until the fall. In the last count, 3,605 people were identified to be experiencing homelessness in Metro Vancouver. Forty-six of those were identified in White Rock/Delta.