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Homeless numbers up 26% in Surrey

Colleen Staresina, an RCMP crime prevention coordinator, talks to a homeless man in Whalley Tuesday morning as part of the Metro Vancouver Homeless Count 2008. About 160 local  volunteers from various organizations hit the streets for the 24-hour initiative. - EVAN SEAL / THE LEADER
Colleen Staresina, an RCMP crime prevention coordinator, talks to a homeless man in Whalley Tuesday morning as part of the Metro Vancouver Homeless Count 2008. About 160 local volunteers from various organizations hit the streets for the 24-hour initiative.
— image credit: EVAN SEAL / THE LEADER

The number of homeless people in this city has jumped by 26 per cent in the last three years, service providers have learned.

About 160 volunteers hit Surrey streets Tuesday as part of a one-day count of the homeless conducted throughout the region. The initiative, commissioned by the Metro Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness, was conducted by the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. (SPARC). The count has been carried out every third spring since 2002, and is used to assess where shelters and supportive housing is needed.

Researchers preparing the 2008 numbers won’t be disclosing final totals for months, and have told local enumerators not to speak with the press.

But The Leader has learned there are about 476 homeless in this city this year, up from 371 when numbers were tabulated three years ago.

The figure for this year’s count was anticipated at a Feb. 27 meeting of service providers, Surrey bylaw officers and police, which shared intelligence and came up with an estimate of 476.

“It looks like give or take three people, that’s going to be bang on,” said homeless count co-ordinator Kevin Campbell.

The tally Tuesday also indicates homelessness is continuing to spread through different neighbourhoods.

The number of homeless in Whalley is remaining steady about 186, while other communities are picking up more, particularly in Cloverdale and Newton. The number of homeless in Delta is expected to be about 15, up from the four people found in 2005.

Whalley has managed to reign in the increases through the use of an outreach worker, who has found market housing for 180 homeless people.

Without that outreach program, the Whalley count would be that much higher, according to Annette Welsh of the Front Room Drop In Centre.

While they’ve been successful in keeping the numbers going through the roof, service providers are stuck with a demographic difficult to house, she said.

“More than 50 per cent of them don’t like shelters,” Welsh said, adding they’ve got people with multiple barriers to rental housing, most of them mentally ill with addiction problems.

Campbell agrees, noting that he’s seeing those barriers city-wide this year.

“The biggest thing I see are drugs and psychological problems seem to be the biggest number,” Campbell said, adding there are more working homeless as well.

Campbell also agrees that outreach has been key to fending off a boom in homeless.

He noted more shelters, while needed, are not the only answer.

“We don’t need warehousing, we need supportive housing,” Campbell said. “We have to attach services to them... somebody talking to them each week, supporting them and getting them through life.”

kdiakiw@surreyleader.com

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