In a year in which Vernon has seen the opening of a low-income apartment complex, the city’s homeless population has seen a modest decrease.
In 2018, an annual homeless count found 161 people were living on the streets in Vernon, according to a report that was presented to Vernon City Council on Monday. This year’s count found 151 homeless people living in the city.
“We are down slightly compared to previous years,” said Annette Sharkey, executive director of the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan, who presented the report to Vernon council on Nov. 25. “On any given night, we’re at about 150 people who are homeless. That’s what this is telling us when we look at the last four years.”
The homeless count came courtesy of the fourth-annual Point-in-Time census conducted by the Camp Okanagan Outreach Liaison (COOL) Team, which took place on the night of Oct. 16 and the morning of Oct. 17.
This year’s 6.2 per cent decrease in the city’s homeless population comes on the back of a significant investment. My Place is a 52-unit supportive housing complex that opened May 23, 2019. It houses people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The units are not counted in the homeless survey as they are considered permanent accommodation.
The census numbers do not include beds at My Place.
According to the report, the annual surveys show that about 30 per cent of Vernon’s homeless are new to the city each year, but the annual homelessness rate does not increase by 30 percent.
“Just like any other demographic, people move in and out of the community,” the report reads.
As well, 60 per cent of the people surveyed said they had grown up in Vernon or had family ties to the city. When those who moved to Vernon were asked why they’d come, reconnecting with family members was the most common response.
“People come to Vernon from a variety of places and for a variety of reasons. Moving to Vernon to access services is not the most common reason,” the report states.
The report offers recommendations for further curbing homelessness in the city. Topping the list is adding more supported housing projects like My Place.
“There is a lack of availability and a lack of affordability,” Sharkey said. “For anybody experiencing any types of barriers where they may be on income assistance, it’s just not going to be enough for them to live in this community.”
Other recommendations are geared towards encouraging action from senior levels of government — things like increasing income assistance rates, funding affordable housing projects in Vernon and extending support for children in foster care as they transition into early adulthood.
The report compares homeless counts conducted by the Partners in Action Committee over the last decade, and notes there is a “strong correlation between the rental vacancy rate and the number of people sleeping outside.”
Since 2017, vacancy rates have been at their lowest in the past 10 years at just 1.5 per cent.
Sharkey said Vernon will become part of the homeless census across B.C. in April 2020. The local homeless count is done in October and the B.C. count will be conducted in April.
“We wish to thank our homeless population who took part in the survey, told their truth, and trusted the COOL Team with their story. We want each and every person who is homeless in Vernon to know that they count and that their voices have been heard,” the report said.