(NEWS FILE PHOTO)

Port Alberni homeless count postponed due to COVID-19

Alberni was selected as a pilot site for five-day 'Point in Time' homeless count

Port Alberni will postpone its homeless count that was supposed to take place the evening of April 6.

“We want to be responsive to safety concerns and ensure we are reducing risk to our vulnerable populations,” coordinators Maggie Hodge Kwan and Marcie DeWitt announced in a press release Tuesday afternoon, after the Alberni Valley News went to press. An article in the print edition states the count will take place in early April.

The city had agreed to participate in a province-wide count this year, and were considered a “pilot site” for an extended five-day count. The federal government has given coordinators the option of deferring the community counts to a later date if they determine that the risk is too high to proceed, DeWitt said.

Homeless counts have also been postponed in other British Columbia communities such as Campbell River, Parksville/Qualicum, Squamish, Smithers, Penticton, Prince Rupert and Vernon.

The city first hosted a homeless count in 2016, then joined the provincially-funded “Point-in-Time” homeless count in 2018, providing information on the estimated number, key demographics and service needs of those experiencing homelessness in the community.

READ MORE: Port Alberni to host second homeless count

Hodge Kwan and DeWitt were in Port Alberni city council chambers on Monday, March 9 to explain that Port Alberni was chosen as a “pilot site” this year.

The 2018 count, said Hodge Kwan, recorded just under 150 people in Port Alberni experiencing homelessness.

“We know this is a bit of an under-count, as it is really difficult to connect with everybody who’s experiencing homelessness,” she added. “It still gives us a bit of a baseline measure.”

Approximately half of the 2018 respondents had been long-term residents of the Alberni Valley (10 years or more), while one in five had only been in Port Alberni for less than a year.

Almost half of the respondents were Indigenous, which is “disproportionate” to the Alberni Valley’s Indigenous population, added Hodge Kwan.

The count considers people to be homeless if they do not have a place of their own where they could expect to stay for more than 30 days and if they do not pay rent. This also includes people who are couch surfing.

READ MORE: Homelessness still an issue in Alberni Valley despite housing announcements

The 2020 count, whcn it is rescheduled, will likely start with a night count, surveying people in shelters (including jails and hospitals). A daytime count will take place the next day, surveying people at dropsites—such as the Bread of Life and Salvation Army—and magnet events.

Coordinators will also be collecting additional surveys for the five days following the count.

The numbers from the 2018 count, said Hodge Kwan, will give organizers “baseline data” to compare against 2020’s numbers.

“It’s an opportunity to see what’s changed in the last couple years, what’s needed and where we can go from there,” she said.

Volunteers will be needed for the 2020 count once it is rescheduled. For more information, reach out to albernipit@gmail.com.

Alberni Valley News

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