Seniors new homeless trend

Langley’s homeless residents, like the rest of the population, are getting older. That may bring a host of new problems for the agencies that try to find them housing.

On March 11 and 12, the Metro Vancouver homeless count was conducted, with volunteers and social service groups working together to find people inside and outside of shelters.

The regular counts are intended to give a snapshot of homelessness – how many people are using shelters or sleeping outside, and who are they?

Fraser Holland, an outreach worker with Langley’s Stepping Stone Community Services Society, was part of a crew that included 30 to 40 volunteers doing Langley’s homeless count.

The Gateway of Hope and other local groups counted those staying in shelters, while others fanned out throughout the community, checking abandoned buildings or homeless camps in wooded areas.

“I was finding people out in Glen Valley, where I’ve never found people before,” said Holland.

He ran into a group of three people on bicycles east of Fort Langley.

“To be out that far, you’ve got to be pretty independent,” Holland said.

The teams found people living in their cars and in parks.

Since the Salvation Army-run Gateway of Hope Shelter opened in 2009, that and other initiatives have helped create a decline in the visibility of homelessness in Langley, Holland noted.

“But it’s gotten more complicated,” he said.

The age of people on the streets and in the shelters has been rising.

“I ran into a couple that were in their sixties,” Holland said.

It used to be rare to see people in the 55-65 age range, he said.

“Now, unfortunately, it’s commonplace,” he said.

There are some people over 65 who are homeless as well. Some are chronically homeless – people who have lived on the streets for years and have not managed to get into a permanent housing situation.

Others have only recently found themselves living without a home. For many, it can be medical issues, the death of or divorce from a longtime spouse, or dwindling financial resources that lead to them not being able to make rent that force the person out, Holland said.

In 2011, after the last homeless count, Langley agencies took note of the number of youths who were showing up as at risk of homeless. They were couch surfing, staying with friends, or bunking down outside for a few nights at a time.

Aldergrove Neighbourhood Services set up a Youth Homelessness Initiative and created the first emergency cold-weather shelter for teenagers over the last winter.

Now Holland said it looks like the next group of concern will be at the opposite end of the age range.

“I think the next step for us… is definitely taking a look at the seniors piece,” Holland said.

The count results for Metro Vancouver will be released later this year, once the data has been collected from every community.

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