Smoke billows from a garbage bin on Lewis Street as homeless people gather their belongings in preparation to leave the area after RCMP and bylaw officers descended on the area for a two-day clean up in October 2019. (File photo)

Smoke billows from a garbage bin on Lewis Street as homeless people gather their belongings in preparation to leave the area after RCMP and bylaw officers descended on the area for a two-day clean up in October 2019. (File photo)

Winter count to take snapshot of Cowichan’s homeless population

In the winter of 2017, 73 people were absolutely homeless in Cowichan, 71 were relatively homeless (couch surfing, staying at hotels or in transitional housing, etc.), 37 were at risk for becoming homeless, and 29 more people were being held at the hospital despite no longer needing acute care. There was just no home or bed for them to be released to.

Those numbers were up from 2014.

The Cowichan Housing Association and United Way will be working together to find out how many homeless people are in the Cowichan region at this point in 2020 as part of a bigger province-wide count. They already know the answer is more. But how much of an increase is what they’d like to learn.

“Since the last count in 2017, we have seen the crisis grow in our community,” said Cowichan Housing Association executive director John Horn. “With the continued pressure for affordable housing and prevalence of opioid use, the challenges our neighbours are facing continue to rise. The data we are collecting will help make informed decisions on how to best utilize the resources we have so we can make the greatest impact possible.”

On March 12, volunteers trained by those agencies will survey those staying in shelters and short-term housing as well as those considered “street homeless” with the hope of finding the minimum number of people experiencing homelessness in the region at that point in time.

The count will also gather data about the needs and circumstances of those affected by homelessness, will track demographics and more.

The count will span 24 hours and take place inside shelters in the evenings and on the streets during the daytime.

Volunteers will cover walking routes in Duncan and North Cowichan’s urban centres and also some vehicle routes to outlying communities like Mill Bay and Shawnigan Lake to the south and Ladysmith to the north.

Homeless people can also visit Cowichan Valley Independent Living (531 Canada Ave.) between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on March 12 to participate in the count. They can also get a hot meal, a haircut, foot care and more while there.

The point-in-time (PiT) count is essential to future planning, said United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island executive director Signy Madden.

“We know that the number of people experiencing homelessness in the region has increased and that service providers are swamped and stressed as a result. Since the last PiT count, we’ve created a local homeless coalition so government agencies and local service providers can collaboratively plan and impact change,” Madden said. “The 2020 PiT count data is an essential part of driving solutions for our community, furthering community development and bringing in resources that will help the service agencies better serve their community.”

Those wanting to learn more or to help with the count can contact the Cowichan Housing Association at 250-597-1938 or email

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