New data will guide response to homelessness in B.C.
VICTORIA - A first-of-its-kind report on homelessness will give better information to help target provincial programs and services to improve supports for people experiencing homelessness and help prevent people from becoming homeless.
"If our plan to prevent and address homelessness across the province is to be successful, we'll need information about where the work needs to be done to get people inside and prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place," said David Eby, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing. "The information we've gathered since doing a physical provincial homeless count for the first time in 2018 has been very useful in identifying trends and unique demographic information; however, this new anonymized data collected from government systems helps us better figure out the profiles of those who are chronically homeless and what services and supports these folks need to come inside. We'll be able to transition from reacting to a particular housing crisis, to being able to prevent chronic homelessness in the first place. That's a big deal, and this information makes it possible."
Through a new project to compile and analyze data on homelessness from provincial employment assistance, shelter and health programs, information is available for the first time about the number of people who experienced homelessness over the course of a year in British Columbia. The report, the first of its kind in Canada, uses anonymized provincial data from 2019 to create a reliable picture of people experiencing homelessness, including the community where they lived and whether their homelessness was short term or chronic.
The Province has previously only had data on homelessness from community homelessness counts that provided a snapshot of homelessness at a particular point in time in 25 B.C. communities, but these were known to be undercounts. This new data project allows B.C. to count people experiencing homelessness who have always been a part of B.C. communities but were previously difficult to count through community homelessness counts.
The data will be collected and reported each year to provide information on trends and ensure solutions to homelessness can be targeted where they will be most effective.
"We acknowledge that people experiencing homelessness have been systemically excluded from decision-making, so it's critically important that we are opening a dialogue with folks to get a better understanding of what their individual needs are," said Shayne Ramsay, CEO, BC Housing. "The goal is to use this information to help inform better policies and decisions that ultimately benefit people experiencing homelessness in our province."
The Province is also releasing the 2020-21 Report on Homeless Counts in B.C., the second provincial report on homeless counts. These reports occur every two years. Much of this data, including the Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley counts, was previously released in 2020, but has now been compiled into a provincewide report. In 2018, B.C. helped to fund the first provincewide homeless count in Canada, which was documented in the 2018 report on homeless counts.
The two reports provide different but complementary information about homelessness in B.C. and cover two distinct time periods. The 2019 homeless cohort, as established by the new Preventing and Reducing Homelessness Integrated Data Project, captures those who accessed income assistance and reported having no fixed address and/or accessed a shelter over the course of 2019. By comparison, the 2020-21 Report on Homeless Counts relies on community- level interactions by volunteer surveyors over a 24-hour period and provides information about gender, age, Indigenous identity, racial identity, health conditions, service use and factors that contribute to homelessness.
- Budget 2022 makes significant new investments to take a proactive approach to respond to and prevent homelessness through new complex-care housing, rent supplements with integrated supports, and extending support for youth aging out of care until age 27.
- The Province is developing a cross-government homelessness strategy that will not just respond to homelessness throughout B.C. but work to prevent it. The strategy will be released this year.
- Since 2017, the Province has opened more than 2,800 new supportive homes for people experiencing homelessness in nearly 25 communities, with a further 1,800 underway around B.C.
- Through provincial investments, nearly 32,000 new homes throughout the province are complete, under construction or in development for people with a wide range of incomes.
To access the Preventing and Reducing Homelessness Integrated Data Project, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/housing-tenancy/affordable-and-social-housing/homelessness/homelessness-cohort
To read the 2020-21 Report on Homeless Counts in B.C., visit: https://www.bchousing.org/research-centre/housing-data/homeless-counts
A map showing the location of all announced provincially funded housing projects in B.C. is available online: https://www.bchousing.org/homes-for-BC
To learn about the steps the Province is taking to tackle the housing crisis and deliver affordable homes for British Columbians, visit: https://workingforyou.gov.bc.ca/
Two backgrounders follow.
Data project uses innovative approach to understand homelessness
The Preventing and Reducing Homelessness Integrated Data Project is a multi-ministry, multi- year initiative that uses provincial data to provide a more comprehensive picture of homelessness in B.C. than has ever before been possible.
The project cross-referenced data from BC Housing, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, and Ministry of Health to estimate how many people experienced homelessness at any time in 2019. This group of people is called the 2019 homeless cohort.
The data was obtained through the Province's Data Innovation Program. This data is always anonymized/de-identified to protect privacy. This means that any identifiers, like names and personal health numbers, are removed and replaced by project-specific ID numbers used to link information across data sets.
Key findings from the 2019 Homeless Cohort Integrated Data Project:
- The project found a total of 23,000 people experienced homelessness at some time in 2019, whether for one day, a short period or longer term.
- On average, 9,300 unique people experienced homelessness each month.
- 48% of people experienced chronic homelessness (six months or more).
- 52% experienced short-term homelessness.
- Males are over-represented in the 2019 homeless cohort, making up two-thirds of the cohort.
- Males aged 25 to 54 made up 46% of the entire cohort.
- Among those over 55, males represented an even larger proportion (77%).
- The demographic characteristics of the annual 2019 homeless cohort were similar to the demographic characteristics of the 2018 point-in-time (PiT) count.
- For example, when compared to the population of B.C., the results highlight that males are over-represented in both homeless populations.
- The age distribution of the 2019 homeless cohort is also similar to the findings to the PiT count.
- The largest proportion of people experienced homelessness in larger urban centres: Greater Vancouver, Fraser Valley and the Capital Region.
- Per capita, Fraser-Fort George, Cariboo and Alberni-Clayoquot had the highest proportion of homelessness.
Data used to establish the 2019 homeless cohort:
- Shelter usage (at least one night) through BC Housing's Homeless Individuals and Families Information System
- Income and disability assistance clients listed as "no fixed address" through the BC Employment Assistance program
- Demographics through the B.C. Medical Services Plan.
Individuals included in the 2019 homeless cohort, at minimum, received income assistance and had no fixed address for three consecutive months, or stayed one night in a BC Housing- affiliated shelter, or had both experiences.
Point-in-time counts provide snapshot of homelessness in B.C. communities
The 2020-21 Report on Homeless Counts provides demographic and community-based information about people experiencing homelessness in B.C. The report includes data from 16 provincially funded point-in-time (PiT) counts, six federally funded counts and three independent counts that took place in March 2020 and between March and May 2021.
The Province started funding PiT counts in 2018 and has committed to conduct them every two years. Prior to 2018, local governments in the province had been conducting independent counts since 2002.
2020-21 PiT counts took place in the following communities:
- Campbell River
- The Comox Valley
- Duncan/Cowichan Valley
- Fort St. John
- Fraser Valley
- Greater Victoria
- Metro Vancouver
- Port Alberni
- Prince George
- Prince Rupert
- Salt Spring Island
- Williams Lake
PiT counts are typically conducted through in-person canvassing and provide a snapshot of people who are experiencing homelessness in a 24-hour period in a specific community. They are an important tool, but are known to be undercounts.
Key findings from the 2020-21 Report on Homeless Counts:
- 8,665 people experienced homelessness in 25 communities.
- 222 children under 19 and accompanied by a parent or guardian were included in the count.
- 62% were sheltered (meaning they stayed overnight in a homeless shelter or had no fixed address and were staying temporarily in hospitals, jails or detox facilities) and 38% were unsheltered (meaning they stayed outside or in a vehicle, temporarily at someone else's place and/or used homelessness services).
- 68% identified as men and 30% as women. A total of 2% self-identified with another gender identity and 3% identified as transgender.
- 21% were seniors (55+ years of age) and 11% were youth (under 25 years of age).
- 39% of survey respondents identified as Indigenous. According to the 2016 census, Indigenous Peoples represent 6% of B.C.'s total population.
- 3% of individuals identified as Black, 2% as Latin American and 2% as South Asian.
- More than two-thirds (67%) of survey respondents identified an addiction, while 51% identified a mental-health issue. Two-thirds of survey respondents (66%) identified two or more health concerns, while 10% did not identify any health concern.
- Not enough income (30%) represented the most common reason for housing loss. A total of 22% indicated substance-use issues, 14% indicated a conflict with their landlord, while 14% indicated a conflict with a spouse or partner as a main reason for loss of housing.
- Almost two-thirds (62%) of survey respondents indicated they had been without a place of their own for one year or more.
- A total of 46% of respondents indicated they were under 25 years of age the first time they experienced homelessness.
- Respondents were likely to be long-term members of the community where they were surveyed, with 54% of respondents indicating they had lived in the community for 10 years or more, including those who had always lived in the community.