SURREY — The regional homeless count is just weeks away and for the first time, two extra days of counting are planned in Surrey.
The 2017 Homeless Count in Metro Vancouver, done in partnership between the BC Non-Profit Housing Association and Metro Vancouver, happens on March 7 and 8, but Surrey will also be counting on March 9 and 10, explained local spokesperson Jonquil Hallgate, co-chair of the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Task Force.
“Everyone has screamed for years about how the count doesn’t give us the number we believe is the reality,” said Hallgate, formerly executive director of Surrey Urban Mission.
“After the last count, we were quite disappointed and I don’t say this in terms of wanting thousands of people who are homeless… But our numbers (in Surrey) have always been around 400 and people working in organizations know that number’s not realistic.”
The last regional count in 2014 didn’t identify a single person in Fleetwood, Guildford or Newton as being homeless, she noted, adding “we know, of course, this isn’t true.”
That’s why Hallgate said organizers are “looking at other strategies to make it more realistic.”
So this year, for two additional days, a Newton count will zero in on that neighbourhood.
This comes after the Newton BIA did a count of their own. Last year, Newton BIA identified 55 homeless people in the area.
“If we counted no one, where did all these folks come from?” questioned Hallgate.
However, the Newton numbers won’t be part of the official count, she explained.
“Because this is now the sixth count in Metro Vancouver, the methodology has to be the same in order for the results to have any credibility,” said Hallgate.
Instead, the extra counts are about creating a “narrative” with facts and figures outside the count itself, but that paint a more accurate picture, said Hallgate.
Alongside that addition, the Surrey school district is also participating in this year’s count for the first time, she revealed.
“They’ve identified five schools,” said Hallgate. “Youth care workers are going to network with youth they know are homeless or couch surfing, so they’re kindly going to do a little bit of a survey.”
Painting more accurate snapshots of what homelessness looks like is important, said Hallgate.
“If we don’t make a case for the fact that we need services for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, those services don’t come to our communities.”
And while some may look at Surrey’s numbers (which have been around 400 in the last few counts), and seen success, Hallgate doesn’t agree. Through her outreach work, she says she knows the numbers are far higher.
“I’ve talked to lots of folks over the years that would come for lunch the day before and the day after, but not the day of the count… Acknowledging you’re homeless publicly is hard,” she said.
“In cities that are growing, you can’t expect that if you need an increase in transportation dollars and health care dollars, that one issue like homelessness is going to stay static. It grows exponentially in relationship to everything else.”
Hallgate said while many volunteers have surfaced, more are needed. To get involved, visit bcnpha.ca/call-volunteers.