The number people reported living on the streets of Hope took a steep climb over the last three years, according to a one-day count organized by the Mennonite Central Committee, but the higher number is just a reflection of improved local canvassing, said homeless outreach worker, Paul Keller.
According to the report, released by the Fraser Valley Regional District, the number of people who reported to be homeless in Hope jumped from 20 to 43 people.
The 24-hour count started on March 15 at 10 p.m..
Keller, whose homeless outreach program began just after the previous ‘one-day’ canvass in 2008, also believes the new figure is a truer count of the hidden homeless in Hope.
For 24 hours, Keller not only surveyed the streets, the soup kitchen, and the food bank, but, with the knowledge he has gained as the new outreach worker, he went door knocking on a number of homes and motel rooms where many of the homeless “couch surf.”
“When you start looking, you are going to find,” said Keller.
Also impacting the numbers, believes Keller, is the relationships that he has built over the last three years with his clients.
“Why is the number double? Because people are confiding in me now; they will tell me where they are really at in their lives, if they are paying rent, what barriers they are facing.”
Back in the 2008, youths sleeping on someone’s couch would also have easily been missed by volunteer canvassers who did not possess the street knowledge of Keller.
“Our youth numbers were also quite high, and if it wasn’t for the Hope Community Services youth workers involved this time, who have a relationship with the youth, many would have been missed,” said Keller.
“Professionals doing these counts are the most accurate, a volunteer just wouldn’t be trusted by the homeless, enough to get full disclosure.”
Keller is also working towards stabilizing a homegrown supported-housing project at the Thunderbird Motel in Hope, where some of his clients set a recovery plan as part if there residential agreement.
“To halt the cycle of homelessness in the cities, small communities have to take a roll in supporting services and affordable housing for their residents. We are the ones actually dumping people to the city.”
Currently there are 30 at-risk people on a road to recovery and living at the Thunderbird Hotel.