Homeless in New West decreases

New Westminster's homeless has dropped by 21 per cent in the last three years according to a count done by Metro Vancouver last month.

A preliminary report on the March 12 count released Wednesday, showed there were 32 homeless living unsheltered, 70 in emergency facilities or shelters and two of no fixed address in New West. The total of 104 was a decrease from 132 discovered during the 2011 count. In 2008, there were 124 homeless in the city and 97 in 2005.

"That's a huge improvement. I'm not surprised by that," said Coun. Jaimie McEvoy, chair of the city's community and social issues committee. "The approach New Westminster is taking is working."

The city's willingness to create transitional housing has made a difference, said McEvoy. He notes in 2011 about half of New West's homeless were off the street. But this time it was nearly 70 per cent.

But he emphasized there are likely many more homeless than was counted, something the report acknowledges as well.

"The street homelessness problem is still serious and there's people still actively working on it," said McEvoy.

McEvoy is also executive director of the Hospitality Project which recently had funding for its advocacy and referral programs to help the homeless or to help people avoid becoming homeless.

"I'm pretty worried to be honest that with [federal government] cuts to the programs like the Hospitality Project and the Senior Services Society the problem could start to increase again if people aren't getting the assistance they need right on the street. That's something the community will have to think about and respond to," McEvoy said.

This year's count also discovered 22 of the homeless were younger than 25 which is one more than 2011.

The count includes street people, those staying in shelters, transition houses for women fleeing violence and youth safe houses. It also included those with no fixed address who were in a hospital, jail or detox facility, or couch surfing that night.

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