'It's getting much worse:' survey shows Nanaimo's homeless population surging

By Ian Holmes
May 3, 2018 - 2:28pm Updated: May 3, 2018 - 5:56pm

A volunteer conducting a survey during the Point-In-Time Homeless Count in Nanaimo April 18.United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island

NANAIMO — The homeless population in Nanaimo nearly doubled over the last two years, a recent survey showed.

Data supplied to NanaimoNewsNOW by Andrew Thornton, point-in-time homeless count coordinator, showed 325 people were identified as homeless during a city-wide survey April 18, well above the 174 people counted in a 2016 survey.

“What really struck me is people are really struggling,” Thornton said. “It's not just in the short-term, people are reporting they've been continuously homeless, five,10, 20 years.”

He noted most of the people surveyed are longtime Nanaimo citizens.

“So the idea that people are escaping from worse climates or something to come to Nanaimo because it's so pleasant here is kind of an urban myth.”

Thornton said the 325 number is “very much a baseline” since about 50 visibly homeless people didn't want to be surveyed and others are out of site, staying with friends and family, in hospital or in jail.

He noted volunteers fanned out across the city along with RCMP support to find encampments expanded all over Nanaimo, as opposed to just the downtown area.

Thornton said another piece of census data that jumped off the page is the group of about 20 people who became homeless within the last four months.

“Either they simply couldn't pay their mortgage or their rent and most of the people in that category were people specifically who recently lost their job.”

He said most of the people in the census were 35 to 55-years-old and their volunteers came across fewer younger people than expected.

A third of the 325 homeless surveyed were Indigenous, Thornton said.

He said primary barriers the local homeless face in finding adequate housing are low income, high rent costs, a lack of proper housing and addiction issues.

Thornton will author a report based on the local point-in-time homeless count by the end of May, which he said will be used in part to help local social agencies leverage senior government financial assistance.

Seventy federally sanctioned homeless censuses happened simultaneously in April.


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UPDATE: Missing 18-year-old found