Boots are on the ground in Vernon as officials work to get a better sense of Vernon’s homelessness picture.
The city has been added to a provincial homeless count this year; hired workers were out Thursday night and Friday (May 6-7) conducting the point-in-time survey to provide a snapshot of how many people are sleeping in a shelter or outside on a given night.
It’s the first time Vernon has been included in the provincial homeless count, which is intended to be done every two years since it began in 2018. The city was meant to be added in 2020 but the program was put on hold due to COVID-19 concerns.
Annette Sharkey, executive director of the Social Planning Council, said Vernon is the final community to be completed in the provincial count.
“I think it’s useful for us to be part of this count,” she said Friday. “We need to know how we compare to other communities, and this survey comes with more resources and some funding.”
The provincial count is separate from the counts that have been conducted by local groups in years past. Because of the pandemic, the volunteers who would normally be out surveying the streets couldn’t be used, but through the provincial program, there was enough funding to hire staff and peers (people with lived experience) to conduct the survey.
“For those of us who are used to volunteering, honestly we’re feeling a little sad not to be taking part. But we’re happy that the staff and the peers are able to do this and we know they’ll do an excellent job,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey says data gleaned from the count will help governments, organizations and service providers better understand how Vernon’s homelessness picture compares to those in other cities. It could also pave the way for more resources to address homelessness in the city down the road.
And because the province has more resources than local agencies, the hope is that will make for a stronger analysis of the findings.
“We know that homelessness is a provincial issue, not just a local issue, and to be part of this homeless count really validates what’s happening in our communities,” Sharkey said.
“Especially when we’re looking for senior levels of funding, to be part of this official provincial count just gives more weight to us advocating for more funding and more programs in the community.”
Data from the counts will be compiled by the province and relayed to the participating communities at a later date.