Burnaby homeless numbers down

The 2011 Metro Vancouver homeless count found one per cent fewer people dealing with homelessness, the first drop since the count started in 2002.

A total of 2,623 homeless people were found on March 16 compared to 2,660 at the last count in 2008, according to preliminary results of the initiative.

Burnaby saw a decrease of 10 per cent, with 73 homeless people counted compared to 86 three years ago.

“I think it shows that the work of Progressive Housing Society outreach workers is effective,” said Wanda Mulholland, co-chair of the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness.

Since 2008, the society has worked with 1,425 unique clients and found housing for 205, with 89 of those housed more than once, Mulholland said. It works with BC Housing to find permanent homes for clients and when they don’t meet necessary criteria, will find housing from other sources, which often means having people share accommodation.

“I think what sets Burnaby apart from the rest of the Lower Mainland is the sheltering piece,” she said of the homeless count.

“This count shows that there’s a beginning of a shift, that it’s very positive. For the first time the numbers aren’t increasing but what is significantly increasing are the number of people that are accessing the beginning of housing, the first stop for housing, and Burnaby doesn’t have access to that.”

While Vancouver saw an 82 per cent drop in the unsheltered homeless population, it had a 91 per cent increase in the number of homeless people staying in emergency shelters, likely due to the increased capacity created in recent years in that city.

Burnaby only has an extreme weather shelter which operates on the coldest nights of the year. As a result, there were only four people counted in the city’s sheltered homeless population, compared to nine in 2008.

“The longer someone is not housed the more exposure they have to crime, alcohol and drug abuse and it becomes harder for someone to be housed the longer they’re not,” Mulholland said.

For the first time in four homeless counts, it’s been shown that putting people in shelters is effective as a way to transition them into permanent housing, she said of the report’s conclusions.

“The message also is that the services that have been provided in Burnaby have also been effective. With the housing piece it could really make a significant change.”

She noted that the numbers, a snapshot of the number of homeless people during a 24-hour period, are reasonable to work with in Burnaby.

“If we were to be able to provide housing, it isn’t Downtown Eastside numbers of people to work with. It’s workable, feasible, manageable if we could begin with that.”

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