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Number of Delta homeless likely much higher

The latest count found most communities saw an all-time high number of people identified as experiencing homelessness
The count included unsheltered people who were sleeping outside in makeshift shelters or tents, vacant buildings, vehicles or staying informally with others. Sheltered people are those staying at facilities such as shelters, transition houses, safe houses or who were in hospitals or police holding cells. Delta Optimist file

It’s the biggest increase in the region and likely an undercount of the true picture of homelessness in the City of Delta.

According to a report released last week by the Homelessness Services Association of BC (HSABC), a point-in-time count by volunteers earlier this year found 4,821 people in the region identified as being without a home, a 32 per cent increase over the last regional count in March 2020.

The latest count, conducted on the evening of March 7 and throughout the day on March 8, also found that 1,461 of the people counted in 11 cities during the 24-hour period were considered unsheltered. While Vancouver and Surrey had the most homeless, the nine other cities all saw increases in homelessness.

The biggest increase by percentage was the City of Delta, where the number of people found to be experiencing homelessness went up 159 per cent from the 2020 count, from 17 to 44 individuals.

The number of unsheltered individuals in Delta increased from nine to 27 people.

At a presentation to Delta council earlier this year, the HSABC’s Jonquil Hallgate noted that the counts do not give a full picture of the extent of homelessness.

She said the 2020 count was likely a “vast undercount “and that the common practice is to multiply the number of people surveyed on count day by three or four to get a more accurate picture how many are unhoused, adding the numbers also don’t reflect those who don’t want to engage in the survey.

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

The city’s Poverty Needs Assessment and Action Plan notes that, at a glance, homelessness does not appear to be a major issue for Delta. However, hidden homelessness is common in communities that are more affluent, such as those who may not appear or consider themselves homeless, but could be couch surfing or constantly in transition.

Also, according to that report, research indicates that the point-in-time homeless counts have a margin for error, and that the actual number of homeless in Delta in 2020 could have been closer to 60 people.

The report notes that non-market housing in Delta, including shelters, transition housing and special needs, is subsidized by the government and delivered through many non-profit agencies, such as Delta Community Living Society, Community Living BC, Canadian Mental Health Agency and others.

BC Housing provided 1,013 housing support units in 2019, and anecdotally more than 400 individuals are supported through non-profit run options. Additionally, the Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation provides 89 units in two developments in Ladner for low-income families and seniors.

It was noted in Delta’s Social Action Plan that there are long wait lists when applying for those types of housing options, and there is a need for more culturally appropriate homes for seniors, as well as those with differing abilities.

Endorsed by council earlier this year, the action plan recommends, in one of its strategic priorities, that the city improve access to services for vulnerable community members experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Delta.

“While there are various effective actions that municipalities can take to improve housing supply, affordability, and address the roots of homelessness, these solutions will require robust cross-sectoral partnerships between public, private and not-for-profit players,” the plan recommends.

The action plan documents also notes that poverty and homelessness are strongly associated. Low- income residents and families are at the highest risk of homelessness. Statistics Canada estimates that one-in-10 residents in Delta were considered low-income.

Convened by Deltassist in 2021, the Delta Homelessness Task Force, comprising service providers and public agencies, began working to develop a made-in-Delta approach to homelessness, while Delta’s new Housing Action Plan also addresses the issue with recommended measures.