A man and women, accompanied by a full shopping cart, bike, and heap of garbage, on the corner of Eastleigh Crescent at a camp set up there last year. Langley has the dubious distinction of seeing the third highest increase in homeless in a new released report of Metro Vancouver communities.

Langley third highest for growth in homeless population

More than 70 camps across Metro shows a system-wide failure, says chair of homeless committee

MONIQUE TAMMINGA

Times Reporter

It’s not just perception that Langley’s homeless population is growing; now there are numbers to prove it.

The Langleys saw a 124 per cent increase in the number of homeless people since the last count in 2014, when 92 people were classified as homeless.

There were 206 homeless people counted in Langley in the 2017 Metro Vancouver count, which was conducted over two days in March.

Langley’s numbers were third highest across Metro Vancouver. The largest homeless population can be found in Vancouver, with 2,138 people, followed by Surrey with 602.

“We were third highest in almost every category; it’s not a title we want to have,” said Langley outreach worker Fraser Holland, who has been helping the homeless for 10 years.

“On one hand, I’m glad the count is a better representation of the true nature of what we have been dealing with here in Langley. The count is just a snapshot; the real numbers are even higher,” he said. “So on the other hand, it’s disheartening.”

Langley also experienced third largest increase in the number of Aboriginal people who are homeless as well as in the number of homeless youth and seniors.

The only area to see a decrease in the number of homeless was the North Shore.

This count was the only one where an extreme weather alert had been called, opening up more shelter beds. That increased the number of homeless people using a shelter.

Of the 206 in Langley, 127 were counted as sheltered, at the Gateway of Hope or other housing.

Five per cent — or 37 people — of Langley’s homeless identify as Indigenous/Aboriginal.

The number of seniors identifying as homeless also continues to rise.

“Whereas a few years ago, seeing a 70-year-old person living on the streets raised concern, now it’s not a surprise,” said Holland.

In Langley, 50 young people were found to be homeless. Of those, 28 counted as ‘unsheltered’ and 22 had some form of shelter.

“The youth numbers validate the work being done and the help that is on the way for Langley’s youth,” said Holland.

Langley Township councillor Charlie Fox, who is a member of the Regional Homelessness Task Force, said the new stats show there has been a “significant shift” of the homeless to communities south of the Fraser River.

Fox said senior levels of government need to develop a “true grit plan” to tackle the problem, in particular the federal government, which has been promising a housing strategy.

Langley City mayor Ted Schaffer said the municipality is doing what it can within its limited powers to address the problem, including arranging an extension of a temporary shelter at the Gateway of Hope.

“We’re only mandated to do so much,” Schaffer said.

“Somebody has to step up at a higher level of government.”

Schaffer said the City will continue to lobby for more on-the-ground teams who can help the homeless get off the street.

Thirty Per Cent Increase

Initial results of the 2017 Homeless Count in Metro Vancouver found that 3,605 people are currently homeless in the region – up 30 per cent from the previous count in 2014 – making 2017 the 16th consecutive year that homelessness has increased.

Held every three years, the Homeless Count represents a conservative point-in-time snapshot of homelessness over a 24-hour period in Metro Vancouver, though the actual number of people who are homeless could be three to four times higher.

“This extraordinary increase in both the amount and spread of homelessness shows us that the problem continues to grow despite all efforts and commitments to stem the tide,” said Mike Clay, chair of Metro Vancouver’s Housing Committee. “Homelessness is no longer a problem isolated to densely-populated urban areas – it affects every corner of Metro Vancouver.”

A concurrent homeless count held in the Fraser Valley Regional District found a 74 per cent increase in homelessness compared to the previous count.

“There are now 70 makeshift camps throughout Metro Vancouver, illustrating a system-wide failure that is affecting the most vulnerable people in our communities,” said Nicole Read, co-chair of the Regional Homelessness Task Force.

“Housing is the responsibility of the provincial government and local governments incur significant ongoing costs in simply trying to help people who are homeless within their communities.”

1,000 Housing Units Needed

Metro Vancouver is calling on all provincial parties to commit to opening 1,000 additional units of transitional housing per year in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Holland said he would love to see this happen.

Housing is the key to hope but he said that housing must go with support.

“Currently in Langley we have the Gateway of Hope transitional housing and market housing.

“Putting a person who has nothing — is just coming from the streets — into housing without supports or without living in staffed supportive housing first just isn’t working,” Holland said.

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