Final data from this year’s Metro Vancouver Homeless Count reveal that there are at least 114 seniors living on Surrey streets.
Although that number is likely even higher, as the survey is largely recognized as an under-count.
By comparison, the count found six homeless seniors (defined as anyone over 55 years old) in White Rock, 24 in Langley, 22 in New Westminster, 15 in Richmond, 18 in Ridge Meadows, 18 in Burnaby, 16 in the Tri-Cities and five in Delta.
Surrey’s homeless seniors make up 23 per cent of the region’s total of 503 in this year’s Metro Vancouver Homeless Count, conducted in early come March.
The only other Lower Mainland community with a higher number of homeless seniors was Vancouver, with 244, which makes up 49 per cent of the homeless seniors region-wide.
Sue McIntosh, executive director of Surrey-based Seniors Come Share Society, said the organization is seeing “an increase in the number of seniors, many of them homeless, coming to us to find out about housing options.”
McIntosh said affordability is one of the main barriers, but another is finding a safe and clean environment to be in.
Animals are another complicating factor, she noted, as some seniors have pets.
“Finding accommodation that allows pets is challenging, too… so some of them are faced with hard choices,” said McIntosh. “These are often people in their 80s, who tend to have mobility and medical limitations.
“They’re in crisis mode,” she added.
Come Share, which serves Surrey and White Rock, has been helping these seniors search for housing, making calls to prospective landlords, and helping determine what would be suitable for them. They also run community meal programs, outreach programs, education sessions and more.
Last year, they made 85,000 connections, noted McIntosh.
Come Share has also been running a seniors program out of the Chuck Bailey rec centre, in partnership with the City of Surrey and the Surrey Food Bank, for about a year, said McIntosh.
“Essentially, when seniors access the food bank, if they’re waiting in line to get food, they can come across to the Chuck Bailey where we serve lunch and treats for them. We also have staff and volunteers help them out with any forms they may need, and try to connect them to the community and become aware of what’s happening.”
McIntosh said it’s been a successful program and helps connect some of the “quite isolated” seniors with resources.
Homelessness, said McIntosh, is “devastating” regardless of age.
“So whatever we can do to help to ease that burden, and help them through, we will do.”
Anyone seniors in need can find out more by calling Come Share at 604-531-9400.
Extra days of counting in Newton finds 13 additional homeless
New this year was the Surrey Enhanced Urban Strategy (SEUS) pilot project, which counted for an extended two days on March 9 and 10 after the regional count concluded.
It used the same methodology and routes as the main count.
The SEUS identified a total of 13 addition people Newton who were not approached during the main count, bringing the number of homeless people in that community from 119 to 132, if including the additional numbers.
Though the homeless report notes those extra 13 people aren’t part of the actual tally to “ensure longitudinal comparability.”
“Everyone has screamed for years about how the count doesn’t give us the number we believe is the reality,” said Jonquil Hallgate, a longtime homeless advocate, helped run this year’s Surrey survey, based out of City Centre Library.
The last regional count in 2014 didn’t identify a single person in Fleetwood, Guildford or Newton as being homeless, she noted, adding “we know, of course, this isn’t true.”
That’s why Hallgate said organizers are “looking at other strategies to make it more realistic.”
So this year, for those two additional days, a Newton count zeroed in on that neighbourhood.
This comes after the Newton BIA did a count of their own. Last year, Newton BIA identified 55 homeless people in the area.
More about the numbers
Region wide, the count found 3,605 homeless people in all, a 30 per cent increase since 2014.
This year’s regional count found 828 more homeless people than were identified in the 2017 count compared to 2014, the highest number the count has ever seen.
The count also revealed that Aboriginal people make up about one-third of Metro Vancouver’s homeless.
Despite making up only 2.5 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s population, 34 per cent of the region’s homeless people are Aboriginal.
That’s a three-per-cent increase from the last count in 2014, where 31 per cent of the area’s homeless were Aboriginal.
The Now-Leader reported on preliminary Surrey numbers of the count in April.
Surrey’s total number of homeless counted has gone way up since the last count in 2014, rising 49 per cent to 602 this year.
In Surrey, the number of homeless counted stayed relatively stagnant over the last few counts. In 2005 the count identified 392 people as homeless, 402 in 2008, 400 in 2011 and 403 in 2014.
Eighteen per cent (137) of all the surveyed Aboriginal people across the region were found in Surrey.
Youth – defined as those under 25 years of age – made up 20 per cent of all homeless across the region. Seventeen per cent of all youth were found in Surrey, only surpassed by Vancouver.
The Metro Vancouver Homeless Count, done every three years, is run by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association. It aims to provide a snapshot of the region’s homeless population, obtain a demographic profile of this population and identify trends compared to previous counts.