A homeless count completed over a 24-hour period in March, 2020, in the Cowichan Valley found 129 people experiencing homelessness.
That’s down from the 150 who were identified in a homeless count conducted in 2017, but the organizers caution that the Point-In-Time count represents only those individuals identified during a 24-hour period, so the numbers are understood to be the minimum number of people who are experiencing homeless on a given day in the Valley.
John Horn, executive director of the Cowichan Housing Association which participated in the count, also believes the numbers are likely much higher for the Valley.
He said the PIT count was supposed to be conducted in 18 B.C. communities, but had to shut down at just eight due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic at the time.
“A lot of people were becoming leery of gathering which had a dampening effect on our numbers,” Horn said.
“I believe the Cowichan Valley has more homeless than the count shows and we can see that when we look at Lake Cowichan. Suddenly, for the first time, we’re getting calls from that town asking us to help find housing for eight to 10 people that are living in the parks there. When little communities like Lake Cowichan begin experiencing these issues, it’s likely because city centres like Duncan are becoming saturated with homeless people and they are spilling out and trickling down to the smaller communities.”
The 2020 PIT homeless count, which was funded by the province, was designed to provide a snapshot of people who are experiencing homelessness in a 24-hour period, their demographic characteristics, service use and other information in those communities.
The data is intended to help the province and communities better understand who is experiencing homelessness and why, and the count results can inform the development of supports and services that will best help people in need in different communities.
The count in the Valley, which was held on the evening of March 11 and the day of March 12, was conducted by trained volunteers from the the Cowichan Housing Association and United Way for the Homelessness Services Association of BC.
The count took place inside shelters in the evenings and on the streets during the daytime.
Individuals were defined as experiencing homelessness if they did not have a place of their own where they paid rent and could expect to stay for at least 30 days.
Asked where they stayed that night, 58 per cent said they were sheltered and 42 per cent said they were unsheltered.
Sheltered meant that they stayed the night of the count in homeless shelters, hospitals, jails, detox centres or some other covered location.
Unsheltered meant they stayed outside in alleys, doorways, vehicles, or were temporarily coach surfing.
Of the 129 homeless, 64 per cent were adults, aged between 25 and 54, 27 per cent were seniors, aged 55 years and up, and nine per cent were youth under 25.
Men constituted 65 per cent of the homeless in the count, while 34 per cent were women.
As for how long they had been homeless, 23 per cent said they were homeless for under six months, while 69 per cent said they were for one year or more; and 88 per cent said they had been in the community for at least a year, while 47 per cent said they had been in the community for 10 years or more.
In regards to the for reasons for being homeless, 45 per cent said they didn’t have enough income, 24 per cent attributed it to substance abuse issues and 21 per cent said they had a conflict with their landlord.