On Monday, April 23 the Sunshine Coast will participate in a provincial homeless count that is taking place in a dozen small BC communities.
Locally, the count coordinator is Jacob Taves, who is looking for volunteers to assist on outreach teams and at events in Sechelt, Roberts Creek and Gibsons.
Taves said he is planning “magnet events” that will serve a snack and coffee or, in some locations, a full meal. Events will be spread out geographically as well as throughout the day to accommodate people in different areas and with different work schedules.
“One of the things that we deal with, unfortunately heavily, is the stigma around homelessness,” said Taves. “We want to invite people in and make them feel really welcome. We don’t want to put people through stress they might feel standing with somebody with a clipboard on the street.”
Teams of volunteers will take walking and driving routes, covering areas such as lower Gibsons, downtown Sechelt, and known campsites. The original funding for the count was intended to cover only the District of Sechelt, but Taves said it has been stretched as far as Gibsons because there is so much connectivity along the corridor.
Information collected will be confidential, covering basic demographics (age, gender, ethnic background), history of housing, and current living conditions. The last count, conducted in the District of Sechelt in 2009, found 54 homeless people, but Taves expects to find more this time.
Particular concerns on the Sunshine Coast include the number of elderly people living in their cars, and the lack of affordable rental housing for young working families. Taves said that people are living in a wide variety of precarious circumstances, including couch surfing at friends’ homes, staying in hotel or motel rooms, and living in parks, campgrounds, trailers in the woods, and on boats.
Anyone who pays moorage in a marina or rent on a private property and receives utilities is not considered homeless although they may need better or more secure housing.
Anyone wishing to volunteer is required to take two hours of training on April 18, and work for a minimum of three hours on the day of the count. Volunteers can register online at http://hsa-bc.ca/ or email Jacob Taves at email@example.com or call (604) 741-1126. Although volunteers on the teams that go on counting routes must be between 19 and 69 years of age due to insurance coverage requirements, older or younger volunteers can assist at the magnet events.
Organizations participating in the count include the Sunshine Coast Homeless Advisory Committee (SCHAC), the Salvation Army, RainCity Housing, the Sechelt and Gibsons public libraries and Vancouver Coastal Health.
The Homelessness Services Association of BC (which is organizing the provincial count) states: “Although counts do not give us a full picture of the extent of homelessness, they do provide important information on the estimated number, key demographics and service needs of those experiencing homelessness, both in your community and across the province.”