Outreach workers from the West End Policing Centre and Directions Youth Services Centre manned tables at the recent Homeless Connect event held at the W2 Community Media Arts Centre in Gastown, passing out pamphlets that detail their services.
They were there as part of their ongoing effort to serve the homeless community in Vancouver, which continues to grow at an alarming rate.
The number of homeless in Metro Vancouver has more than doubled since 2002, to 2,623 from 1,212. Canada is now the only G8 country without a national housing plan.
There are no hard numbers to reflect the amount of homeless people in the West End, but it fluctuates throughout the year. Given its proximity to the beach and Stanley Park, it usually sees more homeless people during the summer.
Back alleys are also visited by homeless from other communities in search of bottles and cans in recyclable bins as a source of income. “It’s fair game,” said Aleya Trott, director of the West End Policing Centre.
Damian Murphy, coordinator of the Homeless Connect event, said there are anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 homeless in Vancouver. It is estimated that a hidden homeless population can reach between 12,000 and 13,000 people in Metro Vancouver.
Many of the people living on the streets of the West End homeless say they’re afraid to stay in the shelters located in the Downtown Eastside (DTES).
This is especially true of young people, according to Jeremy Long, outreach worker at Directions Youth Services Centre, which is located near St. Paul’s Hospital.
Long, who at 26 has been an outreach worker with Directions for four years, expressed the urgent need to offer programs for homeless youth, not just shelter. “Many youth use drugs … they need more than just housing,” he said.
The majority of West End youth that stay in shelters have suffered from sexual, physical and emotional abuse in combination with substance addiction and mental illness.
A study by The Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA) found that a person living on the street costs the taxpayer $55,000 a year due to police and health emergency interventions and other related services, whereas building housing and providing the appropriate services costs $37,000 a year per person.
New housing for homeless people are becoming available but Homeless Connect’s Murphy emphasized that the effort needs to be sustained and increased. The last project of this kind is currently being completed at 16th St and Dunbar that will provide 100 living units.
“Every neighbourhood should have an emergency shelter and housing.” Murphy said.
Homeless Connect is part of the City of Vancouver’s 6th annual Homelessness Action Week. It was sponsored by The Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness (RSCH), which was established in March 2000.
This year Homeless Connect had more than 50 non-profit organizations offering their services; nutritious food, coffee and juices were catered by professionals along with games, music, haircuts and basic health services and consultation.
“By having [all the service providers] in one location they can talk to them, develop a relationship and trust,” Murphy said.