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Fewer homeless in Burnaby, but more may be hidden

Wanda Mulholland, the community development coordinator for Burnaby
Wanda Mulholland, the community development coordinator for Burnaby's Task Force on Homelessness, with a box of items like toiletries, socks, gloves and toothbrushes that go into special 'comfort packs' that are distributed to the city's homeless.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

There are fewer homeless people in Burnaby, but that's still nothing to proud of said Wanda Mulholland, the community development coordinator for the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness.

Burnaby's homeless declined by 26 per cent compared to 2011 according to the 2014 Homeless Count conducted on March 12 by the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness. The count, which is done every three years, was conducted by more than 900 volunteers who seek out and survey people living in the streets, temporary shelters or even couch surfing.

Mulholland said the snapshot nature of the count likely means there aren't actually fewer homeless people in Burnaby, it's just harder to find them.

"Burnaby is a lovely place and there are so many people who are not able to benefit because of extreme poverty," she said. "We're seeing new people all the time."

Mulholland said one particularly disturbing trend is the number of longterm homeless in Burnaby. More than half the 58 homeless people counted in Burnaby have lived in the city for more than 10 years.

"They've been homeless in Burnaby for a long time," said Mulholland. "These are Burnaby folks, they prefer to be here. It shows how important community is for people."

There is a silver lining, said Mulholland. The city's outreach program is getting more homeless into housing offered by the Progressive Housing Society.

But there's still work to be done in getting food and proper medical care to the homeless, especially as the homeless population in the city gets older. Of the ten homeless seniors counted in Burnaby, eight of them were unsheltered, living in the streets, parks or doorways.

"A lot of people are no longer young," said Mulholland. "They're forced to deal with issues of homelessness like health issues, the need for medical care."

Mulholland said Burnaby's current condo construction boom could also create new homeless for future counts as older, affordable apartment units are displaced by gleaming concrete and glass towers.

"We have a two per cent rental market vacancy rate in Burnaby," said Mulholland. "For those with limited income, losing any more of that makes it even more difficult for people."

 

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