An annual report shows Nelson’s homeless population is young and has few local options for housing.
The 10th annual Report Card on Homelessness as well as the results of a point-in-time count were released Tuesday. The findings reveal many of the city’s homeless are barely old enough to vote. The complete report is attached to the bottom of this story.
On April 10 and 11, 65 volunteers approached and tallied 725 people in Nelson who were either observed, screened or then surveyed as homeless. Of those individuals, 101 agreed to participate in a 22-question survey, seven were dependent children and 24 were observed as homeless.
Disturbingly, 32 per cent of respondents were under the age of 24, and 56 per cent of those surveyed said they first experienced homelessness prior to the age of 19.
Dylan Griffith, the point-in-time count’s co-ordinator, said the number of homeless youth is likely consistent to other communities. It’s also, he added, probably a lot higher than 32 per cent.
“Youth are generally really hard to count because they don’t access services the way that adults do, there’s no emergency shelter for youth, youth are generally weary of adults,” said Griffith.
“When they see an adult coming at them with a clipboard they don’t want to talk to that adult. Youth are just harder to connect with, so that number is low. We know that that number is still much lower than what the actual percentage of youth who are experiencing homelessness or really precarious housing is.”
There was a focus on youth homelessness during the afternoon presentation at the Adventure Hotel.
Of the respondents under the age of 24, 43 per cent identify as LGBTQ2S, 54 per cent have been in foster care and 50 per cent have been living in Nelson for at least five years.
Conflict with parents or guardians was the main factor in youth homelessness, while 93 per cent said high rents were to blame for finding housing.
There is also a high occurrence of hidden homelessness, which in this case refers to people staying in other’s homes. Seventy-five per cent of youth respondents had stayed at someone’s home at least one time in the previous 12 months, while 57 per cent had done so the night before the survey was held.
There are also few service options in Nelson for people who are young and homeless. Stepping Stones shelter does not admit anyone under the age of 19, and Cicada Place, which offers transitional housing for at-risk youth, has just 10 apartment units.
Ann Harvey, the report card’s editor as well as the community co-ordinator for the Nelson Committee on Homelessness, said she hopes the stats show a need to address homelessness early.
“I think it’s more an ah-hah moment across the country as well as more communities look at the nature of homelessness, how it starts, when it starts,” said Harvey. “It could be a very effective approach if we start with the youth for the future as well.”
Nelson was the smallest community to participate in the nationwide point-in-time count, which included 61 municipalities. Each community’s survey included 14 mandatory questions, while Nelson’s survey added eight more.
Griffith said the statistics are key to funding requests.
“It helps us to leverage funding because we can go to BC Housing, we can go to the provincial government, we can go to various programs and federal government programs and say these are the issues we are dealing with in our community, we need funding to help build housing and to provide services. Without that data, without those numbers, we don’t get the money.”
While 132 people identified as having experienced some type of homelessness, which is up from the 116 counted in 2016, another 107 said one or more factors meant they were facing the possibility losing their housing within a month or two.
Eighty-two per cent of respondents said high rent and a lack of affordable housing is a barrier to finding and keeping housing. Forty-seven per cent of Nelson renters are spending over 30 per cent of their income on housing, which is higher than the provincial average of 43 per cent.
Other statistics in the report include:
• Fifty five per cent of those surveyed have lived in Nelson for at least five years.
• Family already living in the region was the top reason people gave for moving to the city. Just nine of the 101 surveys completed indicated people came to Nelson for its services.
• Fifty five per cent said dental services were their highest need to achieve stability, followed at 51 per cent by mental health services.