A Simon Fraser University student said he’ll now see the world through different eyes after taking part in this year’s regional homeless count.
Colin Sham, a Surrey SFU health sciences student, volunteered to help with the homeless count on Tuesday night and said he was overwhelmed on several fronts.
The Metro Vancouver Regional Homeless Count takes place every three years. On Tuesday, March 7, volunteers went out to survey people staying in shelters, transition houses, safe houses and detox facilities, as well as those with no fixed address in hospitals or prisons.
On Wednesday, March 8, the count included those who were unsheltered – living outside, in vehicles or boats, couch surfing or accessing homelessness services.
Sham’s job was to enumerate and gather information from people staying in shelters in North Surrey. He and his SFU health sciences classmates were among 250 volunteers participating in the Surrey portion of the homeless count.
Sham said for him, the experience was an eye opener.
He was struck by how the homeless are represented by all ages and backgrounds and are without shelter for different reasons.
When he had gone home after the count and climbed into bed, he found his perspective had changed.
“It’s so easy to take things for granted,” Sham told The Leader.
He said he will be much more willing to open up to people on the street after his role in the count.
As part of the outreach, more than 1,200 volunteers region-wide are now tallying up the numbers. The final data will not be available until April.
“The homeless count is a key part of the effort to eliminate homelessness,” said Kishone Roy, CEO of BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA). “It will give us a sense of the numbers of homeless, the demographics and the trends. And it will allow us to understand where gaps in the system are and what future services might be needed.”
The 2014 count tallied 2,777 homeless people living in Metro Vancouver, up four per cent from 2008.
However, the last count saw the number of street homeless (unsheltered) skyrocket by 26 per cent to 957 in the region.
The bulk of those people (538) were in Vancouver. Most other areas, including Surrey, saw street homelessness climb by 35 to 40 per cent.
During this year’s count, the two most common reasons cited by the homeless for being without permanent shelter were high rents and low incomes.
As if to drive the point home, on Tuesday night, an emergency weather response was issued, which means that extra beds in shelters had to be opened up.
“This is the first time in the history of the homeless count that this has happened,” said Peer-Daniel Krause, policy manager for the BCNPHA. “One of the challenges for us will be in the data analysis and to which degree we’re able to actually separate the shelter beds from the emergency weather response rate.”
– with files from Katya Slepian