Homeless counts have taken place across the Metro Vancouver region every three years since 2002. Each year, the count takes place throughout the city over a 24 hour period in March, inside shelters during the evening, and on the streets the next day.
The Counts are a 24-hour point-in-time snapshot and therefore the numbers are understood to be the minimum number of people who were homeless in the Metro Vancouver region during that period.
The homeless count is an important tool to better understand Metro Vancouver’s homeless population and is the best approach to determine if the homeless population is increasing or decreasing, as well as better understand trends within the population. Policy makers and community agencies have relied on the Count to inform program and service planning.
What is the Purpose of the Homeless Count?
- To estimate the number of people who are homeless in Metro Vancouver
- To obtain a demographic profile of the homeless population
- To identify trends compared to previous Homeless Counts
- To obtain data that will help determine future policies and services
Who is included in the Homeless Count?
- A person who does not have a place of their own where they pay rent and where they could expect to stay for more than 30 days
- And who didn’t have a physical shelter and stayed
- outside (i.e. alleys, parkades, parks, vehicles, boats)
- at an emergency shelter
- temporarily in a hospital, jail or detox
- temporarily at someone’s place (couch surfing)
How is the Homeless Count conducted?
- The Homeless Count involves a brief anonymous survey with people who appear to behomeless. More than 20 area coordinators with the support of their local Community Homelessness Tables, 1,200 volunteers and staff from partner organizations were involved in 2020.
- Preparation for the 2020 count included mapping locations, connecting with local service providers, refining and revising the survey, and developing new research methodologies for expanding the scope of the count.
- On March 3 and 4, volunteers were sent out in teams of two to visit shelters and known spots where people who may be homeless are located to conduct surveys. Volunteer shifts are 2 to 3 hours long and all volunteers are trained on the purpose of the Count, the survey and how to stay safe when out on the streets.
How accurate are Homeless Counts?
- The Count represents a conservative, point-in-time snapshot of people who are homeless on a given day in Metro Vancouver. Many more people experience homelessness in a year than can be counted on any given day.
- Over the course of a year, some people will become homeless for the first time, some will exit homelessness, and others will cycle in and out of homelessness. The Count may underestimate the number of people who are actually homeless, particularly those who are “couch surfing” with friends and family, such as women and children, youth and Indigenous People.
- Work is consistently being done to make the Counts more accurate and to evaluate the effectiveness of alternative methods for enumerating homelessness.
How is this information from the Homeless Count used?
Service providers, planners, community groups, health authorities, municipalities and funders use information from the Homeless Counts to assist in policy development, planning, and prioritizing programs and services to address the needs of people who are homeless.
What is new for the 2020 Homeless Count in Vancouver?
- The 2020 Indigenous count was more expansive than previous counts as it included additional communities, agencies, volunteers, and routes.
- A question on racial identity was introduced to create a better understanding of the intersections between race and homelessness. Planning the methodology for future counts will explore how to improve this question for more accurate data and will ensure the survey is inclusive of all groups that may be experiencing homelessness.
- For the first time since 2002, the 2020 Homeless Count in Metro Vancouver did not use cigarettes to initiate conversation with potential survey participants. Instead, volunteers were trained to offer a series of items including granola bars, candy and tobacco ties that were hand tied by the count’s Indigenous partners. (Previous research indicated that this shift in methodology would not significantly impact survey participations rates.)
- The 2020 count also included a broad school strategy whereby school districts across the region were included in the surveying process. Counselors and youth workers obtained information from youth experiencing homelessness in schools across Metro Vancouver.