A homeless count will be conducted in Penticton on April 20, to get a better picture of how many people are living rough or in shelters.
A count of those using shelters and living on the streets of Penticton will be the focus of the provincially-funded homeless count.
The last count was in 2018 when 108 people in Penticton were identified as experiencing homelessness in the ‘Point in Time’ count.
Since then, there is an estimated 140 people experiencing homelessness in Penticton, according to 100 More Homes Penticton which will be conducting a separate count of those experiencing homelessness and where they are from.
“The homeless population in Penticton is bigger than the shelters currently can handle, with 74 beds that are full every night,” said Tony Laing, of Penticton And District Society for Community Living that operates both Victory Church and Compass House homeless shelters.
Penticton has been in the provincial spotlight lately for its divisions on how to help people experiencing homelessness. City council is currently polling its residents on whether or not it would like to go ahead with legal action against the province using paramountcy powers to override its decision on the Victory Church shelter.
City council says it has done more than its fair share for the homeless in Penticton, despite refusing to extend the Victory Church shelter to year-round.
The city has also came out against BC Housing building another supportive housing project for the homeless on Skaha Lake Road.
“Stable housing if the “first” step, other health services are still required. We can’t treat mental illness and addiction if you don’t have a home, someplace safe to be,” said Laing. “Housing First is not a solution but every journey starts with the first step, including the journey to wellness.”
The issue around social issues and crime surrounding the homeless shelters came to a head on Tuesday when Penticton White Spot owner Al Mansfield dumped dog poop on the shelter’s driveway that neighbours his restaurant.
In an apology letter, Mansfield said he “simply snapped after once again finding human feces near my restaurant.”
Mansfield went on to say: “I also apologize to the people of Penticton for showing such callous disregard for the homeless residents in our community who are often the most vulnerable and disadvantaged through no fault of their own.”
Laing said on Tuesday that he understands businesses are frustrated but they are trying their best to work out solutions, working with neighbours.
In 2018, the Ministry of the Attorney General undertook provincially-funded homeless counts in B.C. for the first time.
In 2020, they expanded and planned to conduct 16 counts throughout the province.
Only eight were completed due to the pandemic. The remaining eight, including Penticton, were postponed.
The count is being conducted in partnership with Pathways Addictions Resource Centre.
Shelter staff and outreach workers will conduct interviews with people experiencing homelessness.
On the day of the count, the outreach workers will walk around looking for people experiencing homelessness and ask them the survey questions.
Surveys will be conducted primarily by shelter staff and outreach teams instead of volunteers. This will ensure that people experiencing homelessness will only be in contact with people who are familiar with safety protocols, said a ministry spokesperson.
Only a small proportion of people who are considered “hidden homeless” are likely to be identified in a homeless count. This includes people living in forests, parks or vehicles, motels or other inadequate and unstable housing conditions.
Homeless counts give important baseline information on the estimated number, key demographic and service provision needs of people experiencing homelessness.
The final results will be shared with Penticton.
The data will include findings such as gender, age, Indigenous identity, racial identity, health conditions, service use and factors that contribute to homelessness.
“This information will help the Province and communities better understand who is experiencing homelessness and why – and the results can inform the development of supports and services that will best help people in need, in different communities,” said the ministry spokesperson.
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