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A man using a rolling walker passes tents set up on the sidewalk at a sprawling homeless encampment on East Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver on Aug. 16, 2022.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

More than 1,000 volunteers have fanned out across Metro Vancouver for the first homeless count since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Homeless Services Association of BC says 11 municipalities across the Lower Mainland are taking part in the 24-hour, point-in-time count, which began Tuesday evening.

The association says its volunteers try to be as accurate as possible in order to understand who is living without safe, affordable, appropriate housing, and why they are in that situation.

The hidden homeless, such as couch surfers or those living in vehicles, are likely under-represented, but the association says the unconventionally housed who have not been counted can call 211 to complete a short, anonymous survey.

A report will be released in the fall examining how the number and type of people experiencing homelessness in Metro Vancouver have changed since the 2020 tally.

That count was completed less than a week before the pandemic was declared and it identified 3,634 people who were experiencing homelessness.

David Wells, chair of the Indigenous Homelessness Steering Committee, which is a partner in the count, said the homeless are at greater risk of racism, misogyny or other oppression and he says the problem happens in all communities.

“We know that Indigenous people are under-represented in homeless counts, but we also know that we are 13 times more likely to experience homelessness compared to our numbers in the general population,” Mr. Wells said in a statement.

The 2023 count should provide valuable insight into how the past few years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation and the housing crisis, have challenged the unhoused community, said a post on the Homelessness Services Association website.

“The counts provide communities and all levels of government with information they can rely on to make informed, compassionate, and swift decisions that support pathways out of homelessness,” said the association.

A count was also under way in Greater Victoria on Wednesday, and the association website showed a similar count was completed in the Sunshine Coast communities of Sechelt and Gibsons on March 3.

Many other cities and towns, from Quesnel and Williams Lake to Salmon Arm, Cranbrook and Port Alberni are scheduled to carry out counts between March 10 and early May, the association said.

Counts are also expected this year in the Cowichan Valley, Fraser Valley Regional District, Kamloops, Nanaimo, Prince George, Salt Spring Island and Whistler, but the association website does not list specific dates.

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