The next homeless count in the Cowichan Valley has been tentatively scheduled for April 11-12.
It’s the first homeless count (designed to provide a snapshot of people who are experiencing homelessness in a 24-hour period) to be held in the region since 2020 when it was determined that there were 129 homeless people at the time.
Shelley Cook, executive director of the Cowichan Housing Association which is organizing the count, told the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s committee of the whole at its meeting on Feb. 8 that the CHA intends to broaden the scope of the count in April to get a better understanding of the hidden homeless in the area.
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They include those who are “couch surfing”, sleeping in their cars, sleeping rough and unsheltered on the street and those on the cusp of being homeless.
“It’s very much a broad research initiative that’s inclusive of all populations and is really about providing evidence-based programs and services, so this information [from the homeless count] allows us to base our planning,” Cook said.
Lake Cowichan Mayor Tim McGonigle said there’s insufficient concrete numbers of homeless in the CVRD’s outlying rural areas, which are outside the core urban centres on the Valley, to properly determine what service deliveries for the homeless are lacking in those areas.
Cook replied that work is already underway to help deal with those concerns.
“We have to have core organization in each community and mobilize the appropriate groups in those communities to ensure that we’re actually involving the people that need to be involved,” she said.
“We need to know where to go to actually identify the people that are currently unhoused, so this is very much a regional approach.”
Ian Morrison, director for Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls, asked how the CHA plans to count the hidden homeless as they are so mobile.
“I’m thinking specifically about those folks that we may see in our communities on occasion that might be pulled over in a park for the night,” Morrison said.
“How can we assist you in connecting to make sure all those folks that should be part of the [homeless count] are actually counted?”
Cook said that’s one of the challenges of a point-in-time snapshot of the homeless population, but that’s where working with community partners comes into play.
She said people spending nights in their cars has become common as many are finding it harder and harder to find housing.
“A lot of what we see with the hidden homeless is that there can be points of transition for them, so I’m talking to school districts, as they often know who the kids are that are sleeping on couches, and I’m talking to employers about their staff they know are sleeping in their cars or on co-workers’ couches,” Cook said.
“This is not going to be a perfect count. We’re probably not going to capture everyone, but it will give us a really good sense [of homeless numbers] on which we can start to base our decisions.”