Volunteers Diane Gulbransen, left, and Silvana Biondi during the 2020 Homeless Count in Surrey. The two were walking around Whalley to speak with people experiencing homelessness. (Photo: Lauren Collins)


Volunteers search for ‘hidden problem’ during Surrey’s homeless count

Organizer says there are some challenges when it comes to identifying people

“Everybody counts.”

That’s the message Silvana Biondi wanted to pass along as she volunteered for the 2020 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count in Surrey on Wednesday (March 4).

More than 1,200 volunteers in 17 communities, including Surrey, took part in the count, which started Tuesday night (March 3) at shelters and continued on the streets Wednesday from 6 a.m. to midnight.

READ ALSO: Identifying homeless is ‘the biggest selling point’ for funding: White Rock mayor, March 5, 2020

Biondi said that prior to the count, she had spoken to homeless people who said they aren’t treated well by others because of their situation.

“I said, ‘You matter as much as anybody else that’s here right now,” Biondi told the Now-Leader. “I think that’s what they end up feeling like, is that they’re not counted, physically, as well as mentally, just as a human being, as a person.

“You feel very alienated, you know.”

And Biondi knows. She was homeless herself for several months.

“I’ve been in this situation, albeit, not as long as some people have, I felt like maybe I might have something to offer,” Biondi said. “Also being a former addict… I just felt maybe I’ve walked in some of these people’s shoes and who better to relate to than somebody that has indeed experienced these things that they’re experiencing right now?”

On Wednesday, Biondi was partnered with Diane Gulbransen for a walking route through Whalley. Both women were first-time volunteers for the count.

The pair started their walk from the City Centre Library, down University Drive to Holland Park, where they met a woman sitting in the sun. Gulbransen approached her, and told the woman about the count, asking if she knew of anyone who was homeless in the area and where they might be able to find them. The woman, who was not homeless, directed them to some areas where they could find people, such as NightShift Street Ministries and Surrey Urban Mission.

Gulbransen said it was important for her to not outright ask if someone was homeless.

“People don’t have a homeless look. Even if you’re homeless, people take pride in themselves as much as possible.”

But she acknowledged that it can be a “hidden problem” at times.

“I think I just want to make sure we can capture as many people as we can,” Gulbransen said.

Asked if they were nervous to approach people, they said they were given a sample introduction to help deal with any nerves that may come with approaching people.

“I was at first, but now I think I’m OK,” said Biondi. “I barely slept a wink last night because I was so nervous.”

But she added that she didn’t want to come back empty-handed, without any surveys filled out.

The two continued on to King George Boulevard, speaking to a man panhandling on the median at 100th Avenue. While he wasn’t homeless either, he was able to direct the women to other locations that might be helpful.

In an hour, Biondi and Gulbransen talked to several people, but found only two people who said they were experiencing homelessness, with one of them having already been surveyed. The two, who were outside of a business, were being told to move elsewhere by security.

A former musician, who sang a rendition of the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon,” said he had been homeless for the past 20 years or so. He’s now in his 70s.

Jonquil Hallgate is one of the organizers for the Surrey count. She said that sometimes during the count, there are a number of reasons it can be difficult to find people willing to talk.

“Even for somebody who’s been on the street for many years, just acknowledging to somebody that you don’t know that you don’t have a place to call home is hard,” Hallgate said.

“When you think about all the things in your life that you don’t share with other people and then we’re coming along and we’re asking this whole set of really invasive questions and people are gracious enough to be willing to answer… because they recognize that the more information that we can gather, the more informed we can be about advocating for what’s needed in terms of housing and resources and supports.”

The homeless count, run by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, is meant to determine the number of people experiencing homelessness and how those numbers have also changed over the years. It’s also used to collect demography information to help understand who is experiencing homelessness and why, so that BCNPHA “can improve programs and outreach to better serve these populations and, ultimately, to end homelessness.”

Hallgate said people look at the numbers, and only see whether there has been an increase or a decrease.

“There are a whole bunch of factors that go into that. We’ve got modular builds, and a lot of people that were homeless back in 2017, have a place indoors, but it’s a transition.”

She said that what people don’t think about is that “every time you get somebody into a shelter or into a transition space, or even houses, that many more people are entering into homelessness”

Since the last count in 2017, the three modular sites have opened, moving people off of 135A Street and into temporary modular housing.

“That’s where the conundrum is that as many people are being housed that many more are entering into because of economics, losing jobs, incomes not meeting the costs of living,” Hallgate said. “We have a 0.4 per cent vacancy rate in Surrey, and there’s nothing that’s affordable if you’re living on $375 to pay for rent and utilities. It’s just impossible.”

As for the temporary modulars, Hallgate said that “in some way” they could affect the homeless count in Surrey.

“Some people got housed, not everybody,” she said. “Because 135A was no longer available to them in terms of a space to be, (they) moved out to different areas of the city, maybe where we didn’t see as many people before in Fleetwood, or maybe we didn’t see as many people in Cloverdale or White Rock.

“People have moved out a bit, so that’s an issue.”

READ ALSO: The toll on Surrey streets, March 16, 2017

READ ALSO: Count finds 49% more homeless people in Surrey, April 10, 2017

READ ALSO: Delta has largest proportion of homeless youth in Metro Vancouver, Sept. 30, 2017

In 2017, the homeless count recorded 602 people in Surrey, including 399 sheltered and 203 unsheltered. It’s widely considered an undercount.

That number was up from the 403 people identified in 2014.

Meantime, preliminary numbers from the count will be released in April, with the full report being released in September.

– With files from Amy Reid


Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram and follow Lauren on Twitter

HomelessHomelessnessHousing and HomelessnessSurrey

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Oct. 18

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Signs at a new COVID-19 testing and collection centre at 14577 66th Ave. in Surrey. It was relocated from an urgent primary care centre near Surrey Memorial Hospital. This new centre allows for up to 800 tests per day, which is 550 more than the previous centre, according to Fraser Health. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey’s COVID-19 case count exceeds 1,800

About 800 new cases in September

Ivan Scott. (Aaron Hinks photo)
Surrey mayor enters word war with speakers, councillor

McCallum calls brief recess after asking two speakers to leave chambers

A reminder to students at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Nine Surrey schools reporting COVID-19 exposures

INTERACTIVE TABLE: Search for schools, organize by exposure dates

Montreal-based writer Michael Foy grew up in the Newton area of Surrey. (submitted photo)
Surrey-raised writer Foy really loves to set his short stories in the city

His latest is published in ‘Canadian Shorts II’ collection

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Maple Meadows Station’s new Bike Parkade. TransLink photo
TransLink to remove abandoned or discarded bicycles from bike parkades

Rules at TransLink bike parkades ask customers to use facilities for single day use only

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

Most Read