Homeless numbers rise 25% in Fort St. John

There were at least 76 people in Fort St. John experiencing homelessness during a citywide count conducted this spring.

The preliminary numbers released this week show that's an increase of 25%, or 15 people, since the first count in 2018.

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The majority of those counted, 41 people, were unsheltered — meaning they were either sleeping in the streets, or in doorways, parks, and vehicles.

That's nearly double the 21 people who were reported to be without shelter in 2018, and included 16 people who said they were either couchsurfing, or staying at someone else's house when the count took place.

Volunteers with the Fort St. John Women's Resource Society did the count March 10 and 11, which provides a point-in-time snapshot of the number of people facing homelessness, their demographics, and their service needs. 

Someone is experiencing homelessness if they don't have a place of their own where they pay rent and can expect to stay for at least 30 days.

"It's very interesting to track what's happening in Fort St John basically from the differences in two years," said Women's Resource Society Executive Director Amanda Trotter.

"We know that COVID-19 has changed things further, it's tricky. You don't really know, but we're presuming that homelessness is getting worse everywhere. It's definitely something that needs to be put on the radar of planners and organizers in Fort St. John."

This year's count also found 35 people who were sheltered in either a homeless shelter or transition house, a safe house fleeing domestic violence, or in other facilities such as the hospital, jail, or a detox facility. That figure is down slightly, by five, over the last two years. 

Cameron Eggie, executive director for the Fort St. John Salvation Army, says Fort St. John remains a city with a transient population.

"I'm not suprised by the numbers. We have 86 beds in our facility alone, plus 50 in the emergency shelter. We see the the ebbs and flows come throughout the year," Eggie said.

"What concerns me and the Salvation Army moreso than even those numbers is the amount of folks who are at risk for homelessness."

Eggie says many people are not captured in the counts because they are staying in hotels. 

"Those folks are generally not captured in those counts, because they deem themselves to be housed, although their housing is temporary at best," said Eggie. 

The count was done in partnership with the Homelessness Services Association of BC and Urban Matters.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only eight communities out 16 selected by the province were able to complete their counts.

Email reporter Tom Summer at tsummer@ahnfsj.ca

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