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'Invisible' homelessness increasing in the Lower Mainland

(iStock Photo)

Increasing demands on free meal programs, food banks, limited shelter spaces in North and West Vancouver

Many people who are homeless on the North Shore are sleeping in cars, or staying with friends

LOWER MAINLAND (NEWS 1130) – You may not see it, but it’s all around you.

Homelessness is an obvious issue in places like Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but it is often an invisible problem in the ‘burbs and other municipalities outside the city.

In places like North and even West Vancouver, there are increasing demands on free meal programs, food banks and what few shelter spaces are available, according to a volunteer outreach group trying to raise awareness about the problem.

“We have found that most of the homelessness on the North Shore is not people sleeping out on the streets; it’s people sleeping in their vehicles, people crashing at friend’s or family member’s house, people who have fallen through the cracks,” says Melissa Neubauer with the Lynn Valley United Church’s Social Justice and Outreach Team.

“They don’t necessarily want to go over to Downtown Vancouver where the shelters are, but we only have one shelter on the North Shore and it’s always at capacity. We are looking for a way to make people aware that even if you don’t see them on the streets begging, we do have a problem with homelessness here.”

Neubauer believes it’s a growing problem in municipalities across Metro Vancouver.

“We’ve noticed it in North and West Vancouver with demand for free meals programs going up, food bank use has increased and more people are accessing emergency shelters when the District and City of North Vancouver do open them in the winter. Lynn Valley United and other organizations make sandwiches on a regular basis and we are regularly being asked to make more. It may be the only meal they have.”

Neubauer believes the increasing cost of living is forcing more people to look for help.

“Those who are struggling are not necessarily going to broadcast that to the public. But a lot of people are getting to that point,” she tells NEWS 1130.

Lynn Valley United is hosting a “Lunch & Learn” forum on the problems of poverty and homelessness on the North Shore this weekend.

“It’s open to the general public. Anybody can come and participate. The main focus is to raise awareness but any money raised will go to different shelter programs on the North Shore,” she says.

The event will take place Sunday at Cardinal Hall (3590 Mountain Highway, North Vancouver) from noon to 2 p.m.

Admission is by donation and includes a soup lunch.