With only blankets and a sheet of cardboard to keep them warm, two people take refuge from the weather in a downtown Victoria parking lot. The March 15 Point in Time Count will see volunteers connect with people in such situations.  News file photo

With only blankets and a sheet of cardboard to keep them warm, two people take refuge from the weather in a downtown Victoria parking lot. The March 15 Point in Time Count will see volunteers connect with people in such situations. News file photo

Point in Time Count to gauge homelessness in Greater Victoria

Survey helps bust misconceptions that all homeless people suffer from mental illness, addiction issues

In an effort to gauge the effectiveness of services for those experiencing homelessness in the region, the City of Victoria is partnering with advocacy groups to conduct its second Point in Time Count to see just how many people live without permanent housing.

From 11 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. on March 15, a team of volunteers (sign up here) will hit the ground, heading to places where people gather, such as doorways, certain parks and abandoned buildings, as well as shelters, including those specifically for women fleeing domestic abuse.

Victoria Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, spokesperson for the count, sits on the board for the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and the Regional Homelessness Task Force.

The misconception that all homeless people suffer from mental illness or addiction issues only permeates stereotypes, she says, like the myth that homeless people come to Victoria because it’s a forgiving climate in which to live on the streets.

“They came for jobs, or for love or school and something happened,” she says. “And now they’re experiencing homelessness.”

The count – funded by the federal government through the Homelessness Partnering Strategy – uses a methodology created at the Canadian Institute for Substance Research Use at the University of Victoria, for cities across the country to conduct such counts.

Thornton-Joe says this ensures the information is as accurate and consistent as possible, alleviating error in counting people twice or visiting the same area more than once.

The count also includes a survey, to make sure the team is interacting in a way that is respectful and asking the right questions.

“People [want] to tell their story, to talk about why they’re homeless and what they need to no longer be homeless,” she says.

In February 2016, the region counted 1,387 people who were experiencing sheltered or non-sheltered homelessness. Thornton-Joe expects this year’s number to be similar, despite the root cause of homelessness shifting over the past five years.

“The amount of working poor has increased,” she explains, pointing to the number of seniors and families living in their cars. “I hear a lot of people say, ‘I’m working, my spouse is working, we just can’t get into anything, there’s nothing to rent.’”

The information garnered from the count will inform multiple levels of government as to how best direct funding and services to tackle the challenge of getting people into permanent homes – an arguably more responsible use of taxpayer money, Thornton-Joe says.

“The most important thing to always remember is that when we looked at the evidence, it costs less to solve the problem than to manage the problem.”

There’s still time to volunteer to help out

If you’d like to be a part of the Point in Time Count as a volunteer, go to surveymonkey.com/r/2018PiTEveryoneCounts and fill out the online application form.

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

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