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Vancouver counts its homeless today

The City of Vancouver is counting its homeless population today, as part of Mayor Gregor Robertson’s effort to end street homelessness by 2015.

More than 300 volunteers are spread throughout the city in an attempt to interview as many homeless people as possible in a 24-hour period.

"It’s important for the city to get this information so that we can focus our resources in the right places," said Jill Davidson, the city’s assistant director of housing policy.

The Vancouver homeless count is modeled on the Metro Vancouver regional counts that were conducted in 2002, 2005 and 2008. It is expected to provide an up-to-date snapshot of the number of homeless Canadians living in Vancouver, the areas where they tend to congregate, and their demographic composition.

By applying the same methodology as the regional counts, the 2010 data may also provide some general information about trends among the homeless population.

The 2008 count, which was conducted on March 11 of that year, found 1,576 homeless people in the City of Vancouver. (A total of 2,660 were counted throughout the region.)

In 2008, about 40 per cent of the Vancouver homeless were found living in shelters; the remainder said they were "sofa surfing" (staying with friends) or living on the streets.

"We know that the shelters have had to turn away many individuals," Davidson said. "It's important for us to learn more about those people who are living on the streets."

This year’s count will provide a snapshot of a 24-hour period that began on the night of March 22. The overnight count enumerated people staying in emergency shelters, transition houses and safe houses. The daytime count began before dawn, and will continue until about ten o-clock this evening.

"It's going well," Vancouver Homeless Count coordinator Margaret Eberle said mid-morning. "All the volunteers are showing up."

For the purposes of this count, someone is considered homeless if he or she does not pay rent and does not have a place of their own where they could expect to stay for more than 30 days.

Like all homeless surveys, this one is likely to be an undercount. This is due in part to the difficulty of locating “sofa surfers” and others who do not have a secure place to live but are not living on the streets. Twenty-three per cent of those counted in 2008 said they were living temporarily at someone else’s place. In an effort to capture some of this population, the Vancouver volunteers are monitoring locations such as bottle depots, drop-in centres and meal programs.

All of the information collected as part of the Vancouver count will be confidential. Only aggregate numbers will be released. Eberle said she hoped to release preliminary numbers within four weeks.

Monte Paulsen reports for The Tyee.

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