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Homeless count finds fewer on streets, more in shelters

Fewer people live on the streets of Metro Vancouver and more live in temporary housing, according to a region-wide homeless count conducted over a 24-hour period in March.

Volunteers counted 2,623 homeless people, a one per cent reduction compared to the previous count conducted in 2008. The number is a snapshot of the homelessness situation across the 10 Metro Vancouver cities.

It includes 731 'unsheltered homeless' people, those living on the streets, in parks and in drop in facilities, and 1,892 'sheltered homeless,' those living in safe houses, transition houses, hospitals, jails, remand centres and detox and recovery centres.

The data shows a 54 per cent decrease in unsheltered homeless people, but a 74 per cent increase in the number living in shelters. The shift suggests many of those previously living on the streets have transitioned to temporary or emergency facilities.

"It's encouraging that efforts by provincial, local and federal governments are getting more people off the streets and into shelters," said Wayne Wright, chair of Metro Vancouver's Housing Committee.

"However, the lack of affordable rental housing in the region is putting low-to-moderate income young people, families and seniors at risk of homelessness," said Wright.

This year's count found 349 homeless under the age of 25, a 29 per cent increase from 2008. But the change may be partly attributed to a new youth-focused strategy aimed at addressing undercount issues.

Vancouver experienced the greatest reduction of unsheltered homelessness of any city in the Metro region. But the 82 per cent decrease was outpaced by a 91 per cent increase in the number of sheltered homeless.

"The City's goal of ending street homelessness by 2015 is closer than ever, and it's very encouraging to see our focus and hard work delivering these results," said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

This is the first count that did not show an increase in homelessness. The Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness conducts the count every three years. The first count occurred in 2002.

The committee considers the total number of homeless people tallied in the preliminary report to be the minimum number of homeless in the Metro area.

Tyler Harbottle is completing a practicum at The Tyee. Contact him by email or on Twitter.

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