North Shore homeless numbers grow

Homelessness is a largely invisible problem on the North Shore and it may be getting worse.

A delegation from the North Shore Homelessness Action Task Force discussed the myriad causes of homelessness at a West Vancouver council meeting Monday.

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"I think the problem is getting worse based on the numbers that we're seeing," said Lynne Henshaw, co-ordinator for the task force. "The Salvation Army has had to start a familiesonly day. When I start to hear that from them, the Harvest (Project) and other groups, then I start to wonder what's going on."

There are likely 300 homeless people on the North Shore, according to Henshaw.

Nurse practitioners and other outreach workers offered their services to homeless and at-risk people at Connect Day, held at John Braithwaite Community Centre in October.

"This year we had over 130 people come, which I think is the highest number that attended ever; which is good in terms of us getting the word out but also a sign that this is a problem that still exists," said David Newberry, community liaison at the North Shore's Lookout shelter.

Homelessness is largely linked to the lack of affordable rental housing, according to Newberry.

"Any time there's going to be a crunch like that it's going to hurt people who are marginalized the most," he said.

While other municipalities offer less expensive apartments, many homeless people are reluctant to leave their hometown, according to Newberry.

"People who are from the North Shore tend to feel very strongly about the fact that this is their community," he said. "When we go onto Craigslist it's often difficult to find anything that's under $1,000 if there's anything listed at all that day."

People on social assistance usually get $375 a month for shelter.

For many homeless people, their situation is exacerbated by the difficulty of finding mental health resources.

"We're constantly reaching out to the services that are available and certainly mental health services are. .. very difficult to connect with because the services that do exist are swamped," Newberry said.

Other health problems are also frequent, according to Newberry.

"By the time somebody shows up at the shelter, it's very rare that there's one reason for them being homeless," he said.

An emphasis needs to be placed on invisible homelessness, according to Newberry, who said many at-risk and homeless people are couch surfing or camping as opposed to sleeping on the street.

"There are literally hundreds of people on any given day staying somewhere that we would not consider a home," he said.

"In the spirit of poverty reduction and economic inclusion, I would just like to say let's continue to work together," Henshaw said.

The next homeless count is scheduled for March.

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