Fraser Valley homelessness jumps to its highest mark on record amid surging home prices

A recent homeless count in the region dispels the long-held belief of what’s led to the increase. John Hua reports.

The homeless population of the Fraser Valley hit its highest mark on record this year, according to a survey released by the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) on Wednesday.

But there’s a misconception on where the people are coming from.

Most of them aren’t migrating there from Metro Vancouver or the Downtown Eastside (DTES), as is popularly believed. No, about a third of them are coming from within the Fraser Valley itself.

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The report showed that there were 606 people found to be homeless in the most recent survey, which was carried out in a 24-hour period from March 7 to 8.

Of that group, 33.1 per cent came from within the FVRD, while 13 per cent came from Metro Vancouver.

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But most homeless, 34.8 per cent, came from other parts of B.C.

READ MORE: A history of tent cities in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley

It’s not the first time that a survey has shown that most of the region’s homeless have come from somewhere other than Metro Vancouver,  author Ron Van Wyk told Global News.

“It showed it for a number of years now, that it’s not where most people are coming from,” he said.

The increasing homeless population could be a question of resources, said Rob Larson, a homeless man who lives in Abbotsford.

“Resources are down here,” he told Global News.

“They’re not up there, and in the smaller communities, I don’t think there’s as many resources as here.”

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The added population means added pressure for municipalities that are now hoping for help from the provincial and federal governments.

Officials are hoping for assistance through the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS), which provides support and funding to communities to help prevent and reduce homelessness.

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READ MORE: Liberals poised to make housing a right in new homelessness strategy

There are seven B.C. communities on that list, and none are located in the Fraser Valley.

“You want to help as many people as you can, but you have to be realistic with the division of responsibility and the funding,” FVRD board chair Jason Lum told Global News.

The stats

The total number of surveyed homeless people in 2017 (606) was up from the 346 who were counted in the 2014 survey.

It’s the highest number of homeless people ever recorded in the survey, up from the former high mark of 465 in 2008.

Most of the region’s homeless population was concentrated in Abbotsford, where there were 274 people. That was followed by 221 people in Chilliwack and 63 people in Mission.

This chart shows how much homelessness has grown or shrunk in Fraser Valley communities since 2004.
This chart shows how much homelessness has grown or shrunk in Fraser Valley communities since 2004. Fraser Valley Regional District

There are a number of reasons why people say they’re homeless.

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And there’s a proportional tie for the top reason: 297 (17 per cent) said the rent is too high, while 293 (17 per cent) said their income is too low.

Another 201 (12 per cent) said there’s a lack of suitable housing, while 156 (nine per cent) said it was because of addiction.

These issues came up housing prices in the Fraser Valley shot up significantly in the past six years, going from $404,500 in January 2011 to peak at $642,800 in August 2016.

This chart shows how housing prices have trended in the Fraser Valley since January 2011.
This chart shows how housing prices have trended in the Fraser Valley since January 2011. Fraser Valley Regional District

And the rental market hasn’t exactly slackened, either.

Vacancy rates in the FVRD are at “historically low levels,” the report said, going from 6.1 per cent in 2010 to 0.6 per cent as of October 2016, in Abbotsford alone.

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Experts have said that homelessness in the Fraser Valley could reach its breaking point if something doesn’t change soon.

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