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Vernon homeless numbers down in 2019

Homeless people camping in Polson Park, October 2019.
November 22, 2019 - 12:15 PM

The number of homeless people living in Vernon has taken a slight drop since last year.

A recent survey counted 151 people living homeless in Vernon, slightly down from 2018, when 161 people were counted as having nowhere to live the community.

Of those surveyed on the night of the count, 60 per cent said they'd grown up in Vernon or had moved to the city as they had family connections. Contrary to the concern that homeless people move to Vernon to seek out services, the survey showed the most common reason for why people had moved to Vernon was to reconnect with family members.

The survey coordinated by the Social Planning Council for the North Okanagan and the Turning Points Collaborative counted homeless people both outside and staying overnight in temporary shelters on the night of Oct. 16. The annual count started in 2016 and recorded 144 people living homeless in Vernon that year. The number grew again in 2017 to 153 people homeless in the city.

Social Planning Council for the North Okanagan executive director Annette Sharkey said it was a positive sign that the numbers were not increasing, but stressed the province had a housing crisis.

"The reason we have homelessness to this extent in Vernon and Britsh Columbia is because we don't have enough housing," Sharkey said. "And the housing that we do have is not affordable... this is a crunch right across the province."

The report, due to be presented to Vernon council Nov. 25, states the city currently has 128 temporary shelter beds.

The findings show that there are currently fewer shelter beds in Vernon than 12 months ago. While the Our Place shelter opened earlier this year, offering 46 beds, Howard House closed its doors at the loss of 55 beds. A new location for the Gateway Shelter saw the number of beds increase from 25 to 40, but overall the shelter beds are down to 128 in 2019 from 132 in 2018.

Sharkey said the province had approved 20 winter shelter beds to open, although these were not yet open.

The report also shows Vernon's homeless situation in comparison to other B.C. communities. In Vernon four per 1,000 people are homeless, higher than Penticton, Nanaimo and Greater Victoria all at three per 1,000 people. Vernon's number is slightly lower than Kelowna at five per 1,000 and half that of Terrace and Port Alberni at eight per 1,000. Nelson is listed as the highest at 11 per 1,000 people.

Although the methodology used was different in earlier reports the findings show Vernon's current homeless population to be similar to figures in 2009 when approximately 170 were recorded as homeless. The statistics also show a correlation between the rental vacancy rate and the level of homelessness. As the vacancy rate increased homelessness decreased.

The report states the main cause of homelessness in Vernon is low income, high rents and lack of available rentals. The report states when rental vacancy rates are low, people with barriers such as addiction and mental health issues are pushed out of the rental market. However, the report also states for people with multiple issues supported housing is more appropriate than a private rental.

Sharkey said although the report shows 151 homeless people in Vernon, an individual count by the Gateway Shelter shows roughly twice that many individuals use the shelter throughout the year.

While 28 per cent of the homeless people surveyed had arrived in Vernon within the last year, homelessness has not grown by that amount, as homeless people move away or find housing.

Other numbers from the report show; 31 per cent of homeless people had once been in foster care, 36 per cent identified as Aboriginal, five per cent had served in the military, and no-one surveyed was an immigrant or refugee to Canada in the last five years.

The findings also show that 78 non-profit affordable housing units and 68 supportive housing units have been built since 2009.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © iNFOnews, 2019

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