Why a Kamloops advocate says there's far more homeless people than we think - InfoNews

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Why a Kamloops advocate says there's far more homeless people than we think

Cynthia Travers is a self-proclaimed homeless advocate. When she found herself homeless for the third time last fall, she decided it was time to get heavily involved in her community to help others who find themselves in unexpected and vulnerable situations.
June 29, 2018 - 3:30 PM

KAMLOOPS - It was less than a year ago Cynthia Travers was pitching a tent at Riverside Park after fleeing an abusive relationship. She was promised a roof over her head by someone she thought could help her, but when that also fell through, she ended up homeless for the third time in her life at 60 years old.

When she heard about the national Point-in-Time count of homeless people would be taking a place in Kamloops this past spring, she jumped at the opportunity to help in any way she could. As someone who has experienced homelessness firsthand, she thought she would be a valuable member to ensure volunteers looked behind every dumpster and back alley so that every homeless person was counted.

When the final number of 201 homeless people living in Kamloops was released earlier this month by the City of Kamloops, she questioned the count’s accuracy.

“I was disappointed very much so, there just was not enough feet on the ground, it was organized great and the training was wonderful but in reality, it was bogus,” she says. 

The count was conducted in a 24-hour time frame in late March. It didn't count people sleeping in cars or people facing temporarily homelessness, such as couch surfing, but says even even numbers of people on the street was too low.

"We just did perimeters," she says. "If they weren't sitting on the sidewalk on the perimeter, we weren't supposed to cover them."

Travers says when it came time to walk down the routes they were given and survey people, they were short on time.

“By the time we got to the location, time was limited,” she says, adding that some volunteers seemed too timid to speak with homeless individuals if she wasn’t there.

“Most people I was working with were afraid of the homeless people,” she says.

Travers says before the count took place she tried to reach out to as many homeless individuals she knew to prepare them to complete the surveys by attending drop-in centres, shelters or to be somewhere easily found by volunteers.

“I actually hit the ground running telling my homeless brothers and sisters that it was coming,” she says. “I told (them) how important it was that everybody come out and got counted."

This is the first year the count has been conducted as part of a national count through the federal government. The last count was done in 2016 and it showed 100 people in Kamloops living unsheltered. That count was conducted in the fall.

There was no count conducted in 2017 to better align with the national survey this spring, says the city’s social development specialist, Natalie Serl.

“There are about 61 or 62 communities across Canada that signed up to participate in it so that the data from their Point-in-Time count will be fed to the federal government so that from a national perspective, they can take a look at what homelessness looks like in Canada,” she says.

This year’s count found 201 people currently experiencing homelessness. Serl says of the 201, 11 people didn’t participate in the surveys, so data was only collected from 190 individuals.

As for volunteers, this year’s count had 112 people participate compared to the 75 volunteers in 2016, Serl says. Volunteers were divided into teams to walk routes and survey individuals on the streets.

“So it was all across Kamloops, we met with different groups in town to help inform us where were the best places to go,” she says. “We know that there are some far out places where there may be a singular person but it would be very difficult finding them…so we focused our energy more on higher concentration areas in town where people do tend to live on the streets.”

Serl says she believes this year’s count was conducted thoroughly.

“You always learn little lessons, but I think we did a very good job and we had a really good turnout and interest in the community,” Serl says. “The more volunteers you have, absolutely, the more thorough you can definitely be. But I believe we did a very good job with outlining the routes that we were going to deploy teams to and the ability to go over routes again, so we had really good involvement in this.”

Travers who has been able to get back on her feet and find a place to call home in January says she wants more former homeless people to help with the next count which is scheduled in 2020, to reflect a more accurate number.

"We know where to find us, we know how to get everybody to come out," she says. “I think there are closer to 450 to 500 people out there.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Karen Edwards or call (250) 819-3723 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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