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Finding Delta's homeless, hidden homeless

The homeless counts inform governments, service providers and community groups about the collective progress in reducing homelessness and appropriate measures to continue addressing the issue
The face of homelessness is changing and more families, youth, seniors and women experience homelessness.

It’s a given that the City of Delta has homeless people on the streets or in a shelter, but just how many are couch-surfing or living in their cars?

Those were some of the questions raised during a presentation to council on the upcoming 2023 Homelessness Count, which takes place throughout the city and Metro Vancouver over a 24-hour period on March 7 and 8.

Counts have taken place across the region every three years since 2002.

The Homelessness Services Association of BC (HSABC) is contracted to lead the 2023 Point in Time Homeless Count and a Homeless Count coordinator has been retained by HSABC to coordinate in Surrey, Delta and White Rock. Deltassist and Ladner United Church are also participating.

As in previous years, staff from Delta Fire, police, bylaws and social planning are supporting and participating in the homeless count.

Noting more volunteers are needed in order to give coverage to as many areas within Delta as possible, and reach as many as possible, the association’s Jonquil Hallgate told council at its Feb. 13 meeting that counts do not give a full picture of the extent of homelessness.

She noted that the 2020 count in Delta found 17 people, which is likely a “vast undercount”. Nine of those were people who were unsheltered, three people at an extreme weather shelter and five sheltered at the Azure Place transition house.

The common practice is to multiple the number of people surveyed on count day by three or four to get a little more accurate picture how many are unhoused, she said, adding the numbers also don’t reflect those who don’t want to engage in the survey.

During the last count in 2020, a total of 3,634 people were identified as experiencing homelessness in the Metro Vancouver region.

Twenty six per cent of those surveyed were working people who did not have enough money to be able to afford to pay rent. Also, 33 per cent were Indigenous, far exceeding the representation of the general population, which is at about four per cent Indigenous.

The survey also found that 87 per cent had one or more health conditions, while the majority of those who identified themselves as homeless were from those communities, living there for years.

A Delta staff report also notes that counts generally underestimate the number of homeless people since they do not include the “hidden homeless” including people who are couch-surfing and other people who are precariously housed.

Mayor George Harvie said he hopes that people living in their vehicles can be surveyed, noting he’s noticing more living in their cars including families.

Hallgate said they are hoping to survey as many as they can, as it will help bring a more accurate picture of services needed in Delta.

One of the strategic priorities in Delta’s latest Social Action Plan is improving access to services for vulnerable community members experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Delta.

The document notes that the face of homelessness is changing and more families, youth, seniors and women experience homelessness.

“Not all homelessness is visible. Youth experience hidden homelessness more than any other population group. Affordability is a factor for families in poverty. Over 1.7 million households in Canada are in core housing need. Members of racialized communities, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, women, new immigrants and youth and older adults are disproportionally represented in households in core housing need,” the action plan’s final report notes.

According to Delta’s Housing Action Plan, the city may have approximately 60 individuals experiencing hidden homelessness.

To support those currently experiencing visible and hidden homelessness, approximately 80 units of “deeply affordable” rental housing would be needed, including independent and supportive housing.

The housing is defined as at or near the shelter rate for those on Income Assistance, the document notes.

“While housing is a major component of addressing homelessness, there are a range of wrap-around and support services, and collaborative efforts that are required to effectively address homelessness, and these cannot be fully addressed in a Housing Action Plan,” the report explains.

Convened by Deltassist in 2021, the Delta Homelessness Task Force comprises service providers and public agencies such as Delta Police, the City of Delta, Fraser Health and others working together to develop a made-in-Delta approach to homelessness.

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