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Vancouver homeless population up 30% over past three years

A woman fixes up her site at a homeless camp on Gladys Avenue in Abbotsford, B.C., in June, 2015.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Metro Vancouver's homeless population jumped 30 per cent over the past three years and the organization representing regional mayors says the housing-affordability crisis has played a prominent role.

Metro Vancouver released its official 2017 homeless count on Tuesday and found 3,605 people did not have a home, up from 2,777 during the last count three years ago.

Thirty-four per cent of survey respondents identified as Indigenous, even though Indigenous people account for only 2.5 per cent of the regional population.

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The number of people without a home who were 55 or older climbed from 371 to 518, accounting for 22 per cent of those who responded to a question about their age.

"Bottom line: The homeless crisis continues to grow despite the efforts and commitments to stem the tide," Greg Moore, Metro Vancouver's chair and the mayor of Port Coquitlam, told a news conference.

Of the 2,262 people who answered a question on how long they had lived in the same municipality, 50 per cent – or 1,138 people – said 10 years or more.

That compared with 911 people, or 51 per cent of those who answered the question during the last survey in 2014.

Mr. Moore said the region's rising rents have had a clear impact.

Mike Clay, chair of Metro Vancouver's housing committee and mayor of Port Moody, echoed that point and said communities are very concerned they are failing to protect their most vulnerable.

He said the creation of more affordable housing options must be a priority and the mayors are working with the provincial and federal governments.

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"Local governments don't have the resources to tackle that alone," he said.

David Wells, chair of the Aboriginal homelessness steering committee, said the data indicate Indigenous people who are homeless are less likely to be in the shelter system.

"It's a reflection that the existing services aren't working for the Indigenous communities as we would like them to work for the Indigenous communities," he said.

B.C. Housing Minister Selina Robinson said in a statement that she has met with several mayors to discuss housing solutions and is committed to reducing homelessness.

The minister said the province is investing $291-million over two years to build 2,000 temporary modular supportive housing units for people who are homeless. The first of those units will be rolled out in the winter.

She said the province has committed an additional $208-million for 1,700 affordable housing units for residents with lower incomes. The province is also developing a homelessness action plan and will conduct a provincewide homeless count, she said.

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Of the people identified as homeless during the Metro Vancouver count – which took place over a single night in March – 2,138 were in Vancouver, 605 were in Surrey and 206 were in Langley.

The count found 82 per cent of respondents were dealing with at least one health condition, such as addiction or mental illness. It said 72 per cent were men.

The number of people under 25 dropped from 410 three years ago to 386 this year.

However, the number of those under the age of 19 rose from 88 three years ago to 119 this year.

Lorraine Copas, chair of Metro Vancouver's community advisory board, said the increase in the number of people over 55 who are homeless is also a concern.

"I know that the shelters care about this and are struggling with what you do with a senior in their 80s who no longer has a place to live. We've even heard of seniors camping in a tent in the winter, trying to get by. It's extremely problematic," she said.

Ms. Copas said it must be remembered that "behind every number is a person, a person's story and a person's struggle.

"And so as we look at the numbers today, I want us to really think about the people and the stories," she said.

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