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In 2015, Vancouver volunteers counted 488 people sleeping outdoors and 1,258 in shelters, a slight improvement from 2014. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)
In 2015, Vancouver volunteers counted 488 people sleeping outdoors and 1,258 in shelters, a slight improvement from 2014. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)

Demand ‘through the roof’ at Vancouver’s homeless shelters Add to ...

After doing a two-hour stint early Thursday morning looking for people sleeping outside as part of Vancouver’s annual homeless count, Mayor Gregor Robertson said he hoped the numbers would be lower this year than last.

But all indications are they won’t be.

The numbers of homeless people found by the 500 volunteers who spent the stormy and windy day visiting shelters, parking garages, tents in parks and food lineups won’t be released for several months, but shelter operators and experienced homelessness advocates say the numbers this winter are up.

“We’ve seen demand go through the roof,” said Jeremy Hunka, a spokesman for Union Gospel Mission. “We’ve never seen so many people come to us for such a prolonged period.”

Mr. Hunka said the shelter has seen an influx of people from Alberta and more people who have been squeezed out of housing in Vancouver’s increasingly tight market.

Union Gospel Mission has 72 regular shelter beds. In January, it made 20 floor mats available every night, after the province and city agreed to jointly fund some extra spaces. Those spaces have been full every night and the shelter turned away about 10 people a night this week.

There were 2,028 stays at the shelter in each of the first two months of 2015. This year, the agency has seen 2,580 stays in January and 2,630 in February.

Calum Scott, the youth director with Family Services of Greater Vancouver, said the number of young people is skyrocketing.

Mr. Scott, who accompanied the mayor during the Thursday count in the downtown Granville area, said 400 young people were counted last year. But he thinks the number is closer to 700 this year, with youths as young as 13 and as old as 25 sleeping out.

He said many young people won’t go to shelters because they don’t feel safe. And while the province has recently been adding shelter beds around the Lower Mainland, it hasn’t created any spaces dedicated to youths.

At the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, numbers are on track to be at least equal to last year’s.

Long-time homelessness advocate Judy Graves said she fully expects to see higher numbers because “just walking around the city, you can see it.”

Ms. Graves said it’s completely understandable because the city keeps growing and people of all income groups keep moving here. But the new housing being built is largely for the well-off.

“Everyone else is moving down and then somebody falls out the bottom.”

The province has opened hundreds of new social-housing beds in the past few years, but she said those only took care of the existing population. There isn’t enough supply for all of the new arrivals and for the people losing their low-cost rentals.

Mr. Robertson said his plan is to keep putting pressure on the federal and provincial governments to contribute more money to subsidized housing.

But it’s not just Vancouver that needs funding.

“There are challenges right across the region,” he said.

Maple Ridge, Abbotsford, Surrey and Victoria have all struggled with what to do about camps of homeless people in their communities.

The City of Vancouver has been doing a homeless count since 2010, except for every third year, when a count is carried out for the whole Lower Mainland.

In 2015, Vancouver volunteers counted 488 people sleeping outdoors and 1,258 in shelters. That was a slight improvement from 2014 but still higher than in 2011, when only 154 people were counted outdoors and 1,427 in shelters. In 2014, 2,777 homeless people were counted in the region: 1,820 in shelters and 957 outdoors.

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