Homeless numbers spike in Langleys

The number of homeless in Langley has more than doubled since the last count three years ago.

There were 206 people counted as homeless in the 2017 count by Metro Vancouver, a 124 per cent increase from three years ago during the last count.

The Homeless Count in metro Vancouver, last carried out in 2014, found a 30 per cent increase in homelessness across the region. Langley stood out with its increase.

The count, conducted on March 8, found that 73 people were unsheltered, 127 were in some form of shelter, including 10 in Extreme Weather Shelter, 92 in a homeless shelter, and four people who had no fixed address, which can include jails and hospital stays.

Only the Delta/White Rock area had a steeper increase in percentage of homeless people, at 140 per cent. But their total number of homeless was just 46 in 2017, far below Langley’s 206.

Langley has the third-highest number of homless in the Lower Mainland, after Vancouver’s 2,138 and Surrey’s 602. After Langley, the community with the most homeless citizens was New Westminster, with 133, then Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge at 124.

“As always, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the 24-hour count methodology produces a ‘snapshot’ of what is happening within the community and as such produces numbers below what may actually exist,” said Fraser Holland, a homelessness outreach worker in Langley through Starting Point.

“I can’t say I’m surprised at the difference in numbers between the 2014 count and the 2017 count,” Holland said. “The numbers of individuals and families that we encounter through the Starting Point office or out in the community has been increasing every year since we opened in 2012.”

More people were sheltered in Langley during this year’s count than might otherwise have been, Holland said. Last fall, BC Housing and the Gateway of Hope shelter had created extra spaces to accommodate some of those displaced from a homeless camp on the Nicomekl floodplain. The camp was dismantled before winter rains could flood the area, threatening the people living there.

Getting people off the street and into stable, secure housing will be a multi-pronged issue, according to Holland and local political leaders.

Langley City Mayor Ted Schaffer is looking forward to the boost from the Intensive Community Management (ICM) team which is expected to be launched later this spring.

“I’m very hopeful,” Schaffer said. The team will be a step in the right direction, he said, aimed at helping the homeless and those at risk of losing housing.

Schaffer pointed out the difficulties of a municipality acting on its own, something Langley Township Councillor Charlie Fox echoed.

The federal, provincial, and local governments need to work together, as well as getting help from churches and service clubs, Fox said.

If they don’t work together, the numbers will increase again at the next homeless count, Fox said.

Rapid development is part of the issue. Cheap, old, bottom-rung housing is being torn down to make room for condos and townhouses.

“And they’re being priced out of the market,” Fox said.

“Affordable housing needs to be part of the solution, rental housing needs to be part of the solution,” said Fox.