While the homelessness situation in Langley’s neighbour north of the Fraser River is making headlines, the issue is also growing locally.
Earlier this month, the province made an offer to purchase Maple Ridge’s Quality Inn for $5.5 million, with the intent on using the building to provide 61 units of long-term supportive housing for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, including people currently at that community’s temporary shelter.
Closer to home, “we definitely are not seeing our numbers going down,” said Fraser Holland with Langley’s Stepping Stone Community Services Society.
Holland is a conduit for Langley’s homeless. He’s part of a local team of outreach workers who help Langley’s homeless with their most pressing issues, “with the hopes that small connections and successes will lead to bigger ones,” Holland explained.
And in that role, Holland has been in direct contact with those without a roof over their heads since September 2006.
Last year, 362 people were identified as homeless in Langley, but that number can include folks displaced by fire or flood, or other temporary circumstances.
“That doesn’t take into account people who have been homeless for a long period of time,” Holland added.
That number of local homeless is up drastically from 2014 when Langley’s portion of the regional homeless count found 92 homeless people, 34 considered sheltered.
In 2011, the number of homeless in the Langleys was counted at 102.
Three years earlier, in 2008, it was at 86, and in 2005 it was 57.
In 2002, there were 18 homeless individuals counted in Langley City and Township.
Holland also liaises with staff at the Gateway of Hope (GOH) on the Langley Bypass.
The GOH offers emergency shelter for up to 22 men and 10 women, and has been running at full capacity, according to Gateway’s residential services manager Cameron Eggie.
There have been some days when that number had risen to 72, “reflecting the most we’ve seen on a busy night,” Eggie said, about the shelter and emergency weather program combined.
“There are familiar faces, but up to a third of the people can be new to the shelter at any given time,” added Eggie, who coordinates Gateway’s shelter, transitional housing program, and extreme weather response program.
“Right now we are seeing people come out the other side of homelessness, but we are also seeing an increase of homeless,” Eggie said.
“While we are seeing successes, [homelessness] is a growing issue across the board,” Eggie said. “We help as many people as we can but unfortunately, the number [of homeless] seems to be growing not only in Langley but nationally.”
To address the issue, the City of Langley recently formed the Langley Homelessness Task Force (LHTF).
The task force – made up of local service providers (including Stepping Stone), businesses, BC Housing, Fraser Health, the RCMP, various municipal departments, City councillors, and one Township councillor – spearheads a process that will lead to the creation of a Homelessness Strategic Plan (HSP).
“Once that plan comes out of draft form, we’ll have a plan of action which is always a good thing,” Holland said, adding that as the number of homeless grows, the complexity of the situation increases.
The face of homelessness is changing, and now includes young people aging out of government care, as well as an aging population facing homelessness for the first time.
Holland said the challenges of a 70-year-old without shelter are quite different than a 45-year-old in a similar situation.