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With everyone spinning numbers, here are links to all homeless-count reports

May 24th, 2011 · 20 Comments

As the counting of homeless people ends, the politicking begins. I see that the province and the city and homeless advocates are trumpeting the lower homeless numbers, while the Non-Partisan Association has sent out a news release saying that homeless numbers are actually up in Vancouver.

For those who’d prefer just to go to the numbers and see for themselves, reports are below. A short summary, though. Metro Vancouver has done homeless counts in 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2011. The city did its own homeless count in 2010, using the same methodology and many of the same staff as Metro Vancouver uses.

In 2005, there were 1,264 homeless people counted in Vancouver, 591 of them on the streets, the rest in shelters.

in 2008, 1,576 homeless people counted, 811 of them on the streets.

In the city’s own 2010 count, there were 1,715 counted, 421 on the streets

In the most recent count, 1,605 counted, 145 on the streets.

The Metro Vancouver reports are here.

The Vancouver report is here.

Just a final reminder: people who do research into homelessness say that the number of people who experience homelessness is four to six times the count on an individual night. Many people cycle in and out of homeless, sometimes just staying in a shelter for a night, sometimes for a week. Metro Vancouver has been unusual is having a very high number of people who are long-term homeless. I’ll be waiting for the full report to see if there’s any change to that.

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  • david chudnovsky


    Your historical look at the numbers is very useful – and it tells us a lot.

    There has been a significant reduction in street homelessness in Vancouver since the last count. This is, indeed, very good news.

    I assume it is a result to some extent of the HEAT shelters. The province (which I have argued elsewhere needs to take a great deal of the responsibility for the crisis in the first place) finally provided some resources for temporary emergency shelters and the city has worked with them. This has had an impact. As we know, funding for these shelters is running out again – 4 of 5 of them are now closed – and there is no telling what will happen in the coming months. In addition, we all need to remember that a temporary emergency shelter bed is not a home.

    The feds (who must take the biggest part of the responsibility for the homelessness crisis) have a pilot project in place which provides actual housing for some of the people in desperate need, and important services as well. This program, too, is time specific (the funding ends within 2 years) and it’s not clear what will happen then. And there is still no national housing program in Canada.

    Your reminder that the count is a dramatic under-estimate of the real story is important for everyone to remember.

    So there is some good news which we should all celebrate. But the fact that at least 15,000 of our neighbours remain homeless in British Columbia, when we live in one of the wealthiest and most privileged communities in the world, should shame us all and motivate us to continue to work to end this terrible crisis.

  • david chudnovsky

    I should have added to my original post that the gross figures for homelessness in the city are basically the same as they were last time. The explanation then, seems to be that several hundred people who had previously been on the street were, at the time of the survey, sleeping in a temporary emergency shelter. The fact that they weren’t any longer sleeping on the street is a good thing. The fact that they were still homeless isn’t.

  • spartikus

    I still think the key to understanding this whole thing is finding out what happened between 2002 and 2005 that saw homelessness go up 94% region-wide.

    And by “finding out” I mean “acknowledging what is already known”.

    So many problems start in Victoria.

  • Jason

    Spartikus…I was curious how much blame you lay at the NDP’s feet given that it was the horrid financial state they put our province in that ultimately led to the cut in social programs that I assume you are referring to. Or do they simply get a pass because they held the party and left the next group responsible for the cleanup?

    More money is definitely needed and much more focus on the underlying problems, but I do hope that your analysis of how we got here doesn’t start in 2002

  • Max

    I’m reading through the blog links rotating at the left of the page and can’t help think that the term ‘street homeless’ should be used rather than homeless.

    According to the MSM, the number of actual homeless has not changed since 2008.

    The number of street homeless using the shelters has.

    But if they were to do the count this month, or next, how many street homeless would be living outside? I think you would see a leap in the numbers.

  • spartikus


    Interesting how I say “Victoria” and you assume “BC Liberal Party”.

    But by all means, Jason, why don’t you [for once] construct an argument – with support of course – about how it’s all the NDP’s fault neener neener, instead of engaging in your usual recitation of talking points and falsehoods.

  • Bill

    “Interesting how I say “Victoria” and you assume “BC Liberal Party”.”

    “I still think the key to understanding this whole thing is finding out what happened between 2002 and 2005 ”

    If my facts are correct, the Liberals held somewhat of a majority during that period so Jason didn’t have to make much of an assumption.

  • spartikus

    Given the homelessness count only began in 2002, where else could I start?

    But again, dazzle us with an argument this is entirely at the feet of the NDP.

  • Max

    Part of the issues the DTES faces today was the closing of Riverview.

  • david chudnovsky

    It’s true that the closing of Riverview is a contributing factor to the problems of the DTES. But there are 2 much more important factors that explain the homelessness crisis.

    The first is that early in the 90’s the federal (Liberal) government stopped building social housing. Since the end of the second world war we as a country had built tens of thousands of units of subsidized housing for those families and individuals who couldn’t afford rental housing in the market. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians lived in those homes. We can argue about design flaws and less than ideal planning choices that were made, but the homes were built and people lived there. In addition, the feds, through CMHC, made it possible for tens of thousands of co-op units to be built. That was cancelled too.

    The second contributing factor was the BC Liberals’ cancellation (immediately after they were elected in 2001) of the BC Homes program which was one of only two provincial social housing programs in the country. The other one was in Quebec. Had that program simply continued in place and the 600-800 units it was generating per year simply gone ahead, there would be 6,000 – 8,000 additional units of social housing available in BC today. That would put a significant dent in the homelessness crisis.

    Of course, many (but certainly not all) of those who are homeless need, in addition to a home, appropriate services to be successful in that home.

    The crisis of homelessness is part of a continuum of problems and is that continuum’s most dramatic and shameful aspect. But affordable rental housing for families, seniors and young people are aspects of the problem which need urgent action as well.

  • Max

    @ david #10:

    David, I agree there is a need for more social housing and it is good to see Premier Clark opening up programs to address that issue.

    Over the past 4 years, the Provincial government has worked on opening up roughly 3,000 units in Vancouver, while adressing other municipalities and their homeless issues as well.

    The closing of Riverview sent many mentally ill persons into the DTES that became the prey of the growing drug trde.

    I would argue that much of what we see in the DTES is due to drugs and the open drug market operating in a very small area. The dealers prey on the weak.

    If people that are not already mentally ill due to various reason, they will be after prolonged drug use.

    According to Pivot, there are 7,000 needle users in a 10 block radius in the DTES.

    It is hard to lift people out of poverty when the social assistance dollars they do recieve go right into the hands of dealers and then we as a community have to figure out how to house, feed and cloth them.

  • Jason

    Geesh Spartikus, awfully testy there.

    I’m sorry if I misunderstood you, but by putting the blame solely on the years 2002-2005 when the BC Liberals were in office, I kind of thought you were placing the blame at their feet…I’m not sure how that assumption is unfair?

    I also asked you a question…I wasn’t reciting talking points…and I thought the question was fair.

    But given that you seem to feel victimized, somehow, by my question and claim I don’t make any arguments, I’ll happily indulge your request.

    I’m stating very simply that the years that the NDP were in office they continued to borrow money and run up our debt/deficit. In fact, there wasn’t a year they were in office where they didn’t continue to do this. (resulting in downgrading of our credit rating) When the Liberals came in they had to make some hard decisions about where we spend our money based on how much we had to spend. There were therefore cuts made to a wide variety of programs to try and get us back on a strong financial footing.

    Therefore, the argument I’m making is that while you attempt to lay the blame at the feet of the BC Liberals, I believe the NDP share a large part of the responsibility, as it was their fiscal management of our Province that led to the needed cuts to these programs.

    Yes, the Liberals bare part of the responsibility as they chose the priorities. However, it’s hard to argue about spending and priorities when you don’t have any money left.

    Is that not a fair point?

    By the way, I don’t think I laid the blame “entirely at the feet of the NDP”, I simply asked a question, yet your statement did seem to suggest that the blame was entirely at the feet of whichever administration was in power from 2002-2005….which just happened to be the Liberals. So perhaps you might want to back off your accusations.

  • Westender1

    David C. notes “But affordable rental housing for families, seniors and young people are aspects of the problem which need urgent action as well.” And I think we can probably all (most?) agree on that. But what is the agreed-upon definition of “affordable.” Is it something less than the market rent? Or is any rent “more affordable” relative to the costs of ownership?

  • MB

    @ Jason 12:

    “Therefore, the argument I’m making is that while you attempt to lay the blame at the feet of the BC Liberals, I believe the NDP share a large part of the responsibility, as it was their fiscal management of our Province that led to the needed cuts to these programs.”

    I think the blame can be divied up between them. Harcourt said in a published interview about a year ago (sorry I didn’t retain the link at the time) that he regrets cutting funding for Riverview in order to have patients treated “in the community” without first providing the community level facilities and programs.


    That’s about as dumb as Campbell espousing sound fiscal management while illegally binning existing hospital employees contracts and selling BC Rail after saying he wouldn’t. These came back to bite him, but he survived.

    Campbell went on and accepted wide praise when the BC economy turned for the better. But it wasn’t his prowess in balancing the books that led to rosier forecasts, it was because international commodity prices skyrocketed (with positive ramifications to government revenue), notably gas, coal and metals.

    But then campbell went and increased the provincial debt again and again after his radical cuts, even with vast new revenue from NE petroleum royalties and called it “sound fiscal management.” The provincial government does not control the world price on commodities.


    If there’s anything that will sink this province it’s political ideology overpowering common sense. We can only hope commodity prices will rescue us just as neatly in future. But I wouldn’t count on it.

  • Jason

    “I think the blame can be divided up between them.”

    Actually MB, I tend to agree with that statement. I do think much more could be done by the Liberals, and that different “priorities” could have risen to the top in order to help deal with the problems.

  • MB

    “I do think much more could be done by the Liberals, and that different “priorities” could have risen to the top in order to help deal with the problems.”

    Now that we have the benefit of recorded recent history, one of the most obvious ‘tells’ that the BC Liberals were riven with ideological inconsistency is the huge difference between managing public sector labour negotiations Campbell-style (nuclear bomb) and Taylor-style four years later (use new revenue to catch up and establish peace).

    Of course, hosting the Olympics helped establish labour peace beforehand. But the differences between these two approaches is mind boggling and cannot be attributed to any stable sense of sound fiscal management.

  • Good question Wesender1. If instead of paying $1500 a month for maintenance fee, property taxes and mortgage on a 1 bedroom apartment, I am paying $1500 a month on a rental apartment, why does the city of Vancouver call it “affordable”?

    Geoff Meggs has used the justification that “some consider market-rental housing “affordable” because residents don’t pay a down payment or have to qualify for a mortgage.”

    If I am paying $1500 a month in rent and stashing some money into an RRSP, am I living in an apartment that is less affordable?

    And if I decide to take that RRSP saving and use it as a first time buyer for my downpayment on the purchase of a 1 bedroom apartment at said $1500 monthly payment above, I am no longer in affordable housing??

    I think the city needs to be clearer in its legal definition. People often confuse market rental housing, and social housing, with the catch-all affordable housing. Housing can only be considered as “affordable” in relation to someone’s income. To deem a market rental apartment building as “affordable” in and of itself is absurd.

  • david chudnovsky


    Your wording is purposefully vague: “Over the past 4 years, the Provincial government has worked on opening up roughly 3,000 units in Vancouver…” I note you didn’t write, “… has opened up roughly 3,000 units …” That’s because, of course, they haven’t “opened up” anything like that number. The CCPA study on this issue concludes that between 2006 and 2010 only 285 new units of social housing were built across the entire province! In fact, the BC Liberals have closed hundreds of social housing units – 224 at Little Mountain alone.

    I attended Minister Coleman’s press conference in November 2007 when he announced for the first time (he’s re-announced the same thing many times since), that the province was going to pay for capital funding for 12 (now 14) sites provided by the city of Vancouver, for social housing projects. He said subsequently that half of them would be finished by the time of the Olympics. If I’m not mistaken, one of them is operational now, and a number have not even had the ground broken on the project. All of those – one complete, a few started, some not yet begun – are part of the 3,000 figure you have referred to – and you know it. So are units in SRO hotels that were purchased by the province (a good thing) that didn’t reduce homelessness at all, because people lived there before they were bought and renovated. So are temporary emergency shelter beds which are not homes.

    As for the definition of affordability, that’s an excellent question. The word has begun to lose its meaning. I remember speaking with a developer about a project near Fraser and 28th, when more than 100 families were being evicted from rental apartments that had rents that they could afford ($500 – $800 per month for family apartments) who told me the new development would include “affordable rentals”. When I asked him what he meant by “affordable” he told me it meant what people were willing to pay.

    Housing economists tell us “affordable” housing costs about 33% of a family’s income. So, we need to make a calculation of the mean income for families in Vancouver, and make sure that half of all rental units cost less than 33% of that mean income. That is an objective measure. If we were to use that calculation of affordability we could actually assess to what extent we were meeting people’s needs.

  • Max

    @david #18:

    In 2008 the number of new social housing units opened was sitting at 1500. (April 2008)

    I know more have opened since and 400 units are coming on-line this fall.

    I am trying to get an up-dated number.

    As for the SRO’s, you and the Portland Housing Society see the purchasing of those hotels in a different light. It stopped the owners from selling them off to developers, which in-turn would put those residents out on the streets.

    I was in the eastside recently (as I often am) and noted the social housing units at Abbott and Pender (right by Tinseltown) are finished, open, and are recieving occupants. Nice looking building.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Nothing like joining a conversation late. Closing mental health wards in the Reagan/Thatcher/Mulroney years was the beginning point of seeing people begging in streets in Vancouver, the way I had seen them in Montevideo growing up.

    The other issues that David narrates also contributed. However, the starting pistol shot was with clearing out the wards.

    The second shoe dropped when crack cocaine hit the streets in 1984.

    The rest as they say…