New data offers insight into Fort St. John's homelessness problem

There were at least 61 people in Fort St. John who were homeless this past spring, according to new data released last week.

The preliminary report on the city's homelessness count, completed over 24 hours on April 17 and 18, provides a point-in-time snapshot of the number of people facing homelessness, their demographics, and their service needs.

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"I think that the overall number of homeless people in Fort St. John being counted as 61, including those who are living in shelters, is indicative that the count has managed to capture information on hidden homeless, or people who are couch surfing, in Fort St. John," said Amanda Trotter, executive director of the Women's Resource Society, which co-ordinated the count.

"It's important to remember that these results are from the first ever oint in time homeless count in Fort St. John so we do not have other local data collected in the same way to use as a comparison."

Forty of those who were counted in Fort St. John, or 66 per cent, were sheltered, while 21 people did not have shelter.

Fifty-nine per cent of those who responded to surveys identified as indigenous. Seventy-seven per cent of respondents were male.

Seventy-one per cent were between 25 and 54 years old.

A final report will be released in the fall, and the data will be used as a benchmark to measure progress in addressing homelessness.

The report will be presented to city council and the Community Development Institute, Trotter said.

"It will be interesting to see more data from Fort St. John, and see how we are situated in terms of similar population sized cities," she said.

The province committed $550,000 to help fund counts in 12 communities across B.C., including Prince Rupert, Smithers, and Williams Lake, among others. The federal government funded a count in Prince George, and five other communities in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.

The count defines someone as 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. That includes people staying overnight in homeless shelters, including transition houses for women fleeing violence and youth safe houses, as well as people with no fixed address who are staying temporarily in hospitals, jails, detox facilities, or are couch surfing.

"The Point-in-Time Count methodology is most effective at counting and surveying the 'visible' homeless population," the report notes.

"Not everyone experiencing homelessness can be found and not everyone who is found is willing to be surveyed."

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

© Copyright 2018 Alaska Highway News

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