More people are living rough, without a place to call home in Vernon this year.
The 2021 homeless count, conducted May 6 and 7, recorded 224 people. This is compared to 151 in 2019, a 33 per cent increase.
Some of the provincewide 2020 counts were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But to clarify the situation, Turning Points Collaborative Society says the number of people unsheltered is actually 54, not 224. But the number is still a significant increase from the October 2019 count which found 22 people unsheltered.
“Seventy-six per cent of our homeless population in Vernon are sheltered,” Turning Points executive director Randene Wejr said.
While the numbers are higher, Wejr points out that this is the first year Vernon had funding to do a homeless count. That meant Turning Points could hire staff and people with lived experiences to do the count, and extend the time spent on the count.
Previous homeless counts were a snapshot by volunteers over a period of three hours. This year, the count was conducted over a 24-hour time period.
“So the real difference this year for the count was we were able to do a more comprehensive count and get to more people hidden in the outskirts of Vernon,” Wejr said. “What is of important note is that 76 per cent of the homeless are in shelter and far less than ever, are sleeping on the streets. This has been noted by bylaw and the business community as well.”
Still, Vernon continues to be a target community for people moving from larger centres such as Ontario and greater Vancouver.
“We have all of the amenities of Kelowna but, our real estate prices are not as high,” Wejr said.
But the majority of the city’s homeless are local.
“The number of respondents who had been in the community for at least a year (84 per cent) and in the community 10 years or more (42 per cent), are similar results to previous homeless counts,” Wejr said. “This means that we are working with people who are from Vernon, have family in Vernon or who have ties to this community.”
The count showed the majority, 63 per cent, have been homeless for one year or more, while 25 per cent said they have been without a roof over their head for under six months.
More and more people are finding themselves without a home due to a number of issues. The count revealed that the reasons for housing loss varied from limited income, substance use issues and partner conflicts.
Wejr said many issues are directly connected to COVID-19, with job losses, increased domestic violence and relationship breakdowns, steep property price increases and more landlords are selling their rental properties.
The majority, 67 per cent of people not sheltered are sleeping outside, with 13 per cent under a makeshift shelter or tent and 11 per cent in a vehicle.
Adults between the age of 25 and 54 make up 81 per cent of those experiencing homelessness, while seniors 55 and over account for 11 per cent and nine per cent are youth under 25.
Most of Vernon’s homeless population are men, 64 per cent, while 33 per cent are women and three per cent identify otherwise.
Indigenous peoples accounted for 40 per cent of respondents. Wejr said this number is similar to previous homeless counts and reinforces the need for programs that are culturally appropriate and safe and reflect the ongoing intergenerational trauma and impacts from colonization and the residential school system.
Addiction health concerns were reported by 85 per cent, mental health issues in 63 per cent, physical disabilities in 48 per cent, 43 per cent with at least one medical condition and 37 per cent with a learning disability.
Getting more people housed continues to be a priority for Turning Points.
“The number of shelter beds has increased significantly since 2019 with the addition of the motel/hotel program (added up to 75 more spaces) but more is needed,” Wejr said.
The City of Vernon has applied to the province for funding to increase the motel program (in particular during the winter), and Wejr is hopeful there will be more resources coming.
There are 100 new units of supported housing coming in 2022, which Wejr calls “a critical resource, and will allow people to transition from the shelter/motel programs into permanent supported housing.”
But more housing is still needed, specifically varied options including affordable, market, supportive, family and senior housing.
Point in Time counts are an undercount and represent only those individuals identified during a 24-hour period.
“This is because not everyone experiencing homelessness can be found and not everyone who is found consents to be surveyed,” BC Housing said in its report.