As Salt Spring’s affordable housing crisis persists, early data from one local nonprofit suggests the population of the most vulnerable islanders is growing — and perhaps shifting.
Island Community Services (ICS), formerly Salt Spring Island Community Services (SSICS), released numbers from its annual Point-in-Time (PiT) count of the homeless population, finding a total of 165 people, including 56 “sheltered” and 106 “unsheltered” people.
The new count indicates a 51 per cent increase in the number of sheltered homeless, and a three per cent decrease in the number unsheltered; the overall total increased by 15 per cent. In 2021, the province reported ICS found those numbers at 37 sheltered and 109 unsheltered, a total of 146.
“The numbers do not come as a surprise,” said Deanna Kameka, Housing First coordinator at ICS. “We are seeing an increasing number of families and individuals fall out of the bottom of the housing market into homelessness as rental costs skyrocket well beyond the means of low-income earners.”
PiT counts are conducted across British Columbia, and are meant to provide a snapshot of people experiencing homelessness; they are generally considered an undercount by the province, representing only individuals identified during a specific 24-hour period. Counts since 2018 have typically been taken over one day in March, coinciding with the end of the fiscal year.
For the purpose of homeless counts conducted in the provincially funded B.C. communities, a person was defined as experiencing homelessness if they did not have a place of their own where they paid rent and could expect to stay for at least 30 days.
Those programs defined “sheltered” as anyone who stayed overnight on the night of the count in homeless shelters, including transition houses for women fleeing violence and youth safe houses, and people with no fixed address staying temporarily in hospitals, jails or detox facilities.
“Unsheltered” homeless included anyone who stayed outside in alleys, doorways, parkades, parks and vehicles, or people who were staying temporarily at someone else’s place (couch surfing) and/or those using homelessness services.
ICS, which conducts its count independently, defines sheltered as “living in emergency or transitional situations” and unsheltered as living in “tents, vehicles, derelict boats and other temporary and makeshift shelter situations.”
In 2018, according to BC Housing’s Report on Homeless Counts, SSICS counted 33 sheltered and 82 unsheltered homeless, a total of 115 people.
BC Housing’s 2023 report, which will include counts from throughout the province, is expected in the fall; visit bchousing.org/research-centre/housing-data/homeless-counts for more information.