VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – City staff have been on the streets of Vancouver since yesterday morning, counting the number of people without a place to call home.
As we wait for the final numbers in the annual tally, the operators of a shelter downtown say they are seeing an unprecedented demand for their services.
“At Union Gospel Mission we had a record-breaking January and a record-breaking February. We are seeing more people coming to our shelter asking for help,” says UGM spokesperson Jeremy Hunka.
“There was an agreement struck with the city and BC Housing back in December and as a part of that, we were asked to open our overflow shelter nightly through the winter months. We’ve opened 20 additional spaces as needed and almost every night they have been needed. The demand is pretty staggering,” he tells NEWS 1130.
Hunka says there are a number of reasons for the increase in demand.
“Number one is we haven’t seen an extreme weather alert. The mild weather has meant the extreme weather response shelters haven’t been opening up. Many times, what we see is during mild weather there are fewer emergency spaces open and we get a surge of demand here.”
The economy is also a factor, with unemployment rising in formerly booming Alberta.
“We are seeing a few clients arriving from out-of-province with nowhere to go. These are formerly working, formerly housed people who have lost their jobs and came to Vancouver looking for work. It’s not a huge number but we are seeing a handful in our shelter coming from Alberta,” says Hunka.
The increasing cost of living is also hitting many people hard.
“It’s squeezing more people into homelessness. The last Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report showed that rent increased by four per cent in Vancouver last year and the vacancy rate for a bachelor suite is 0.6 per cent. Food is going up with the price of vegetables rising 18 per cent last year. When you have all these factors working together, they could push someone barely holding on into homelessness.”
Representatives from UGM were among those who welcomed two homeless men from the Prairies to Vancouver after the government of Saskatchewan bought them one-way bus tickets to the West Coast.
“We had 96 people in our shelter last night, which is a huge number for us, and we still had to turn away nine people. The night before it was 11. We are still seeing a huge demand from people looking for a place to spend the night and we want to get them off the street and into a warm space where they can feel support,” says Hunka.
“We want them to understand that their life does have a future.”