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Advocate hopes vital data can be collected without Vancouver's homeless count

FILE - The collection of race-based data in the latest Metro Vancouver homeless count is shedding new light on who needs help the most. (Photo by John Lehmann, BC Non-Profit Housing Association)

Vancouver's 2021 homeless count was called off due to the pandemic

UGM spokesperson says the count is 'tremendously useful' and hopes necessary data isn't lost

Jeremy Hunka says the count helps identify needs and make decisions in the region

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – For the first time in sixteen years, Vancouver’s homeless count has been cancelled due to safety concerns with the pandemic.

In order to minimize transmission of the virus, the City of Vancouver will be gathering data from shelters and other local agencies instead of sending out hundreds of volunteers to conduct the count.

However, Jeremy Hunka, with the Union Gospel Mission, says the in-person count isn’t just about numbers.

“The homeless count is tremendously useful. It gives a lot of information and that data helps us make decisions as a region, and as a city to where we need to put investments, time, and energy,” he tells NEWS 1130, adding the count helps understand people’s needs.

RELATED: Race-based data from Metro Vancouver homeless count shows systems failing people of colour: advocate

Those conducting the in-person survey often hear stories of what led people to experience homelessness and whether they have an addiction or mental health issues.

While Hunka understands the reason behind the decision, he says it’s disappointing.

“The great irony here is that the pandemic has disproportionately affected people experiencing homelessness,” he says.

But he notes it’s more challenging to get detailed information about the impacts of COVID-19 on a wider scale during the pandemic.

Hunka says the number of people experiencing homelessness has definitely gone up this past year because of the pandemic. He hopes the homeless count is only cancelled this year, but he assumes the next physical count, whether it’s in 2022 or later, will show higher numbers.

“We don’t want to see the issue lose prominence because it is so important so that we’re making the best decisions and the issue of homelessness has its rightful place in the public consciousness,” he says.

Last year’s homeless count in Metro Vancouver identified 2,095 people as homeless and 547 people living on the street. It also found 1,548 people were living in “sheltered locations”, such as emergency shelters, detox centres, safe houses, and hospitals, with no fixed address