A 2017 homeless count found the average homeless person is male, 39 years old, and suffers from a mental health issue, addiction or medical issue.

Homeless count reveals glimpse into the life of Campbell River’s street population

Pair conducting homeless count encounter bear, threats of an active shooter

Two interviewers, hired by the city to conduct a homeless count, may have got more than they bargained for while trying to track down the community’s most vulnerable.

Patricia Orr and Raymond Allan, who conducted the count between Sept. 1 and 3, reported incidences such as “an encounter with a bear, being warned of a person shooting a shotgun” and potential respondents appearing “out of control.”

The pair walked or were outside approximately seven hours a day, and drove a car the remaining hours in order to connect with people who may be experiencing homelessness. In total the survey took 86 hours to complete.

A significant portion of that time was spent fostering relationships and a sense of trust with potential survey respondents in order to get them to agree to completing the survey. Orr and Allan wrote in a report to city council that “it was not uncommon for the interviewers to be refused following the first approach. In part, this was due to the ongoing expressed sense of distrust and disinterest directed at the city and social service providers ‘involved with homeless’ and thus the interviewers.”

The pair did manage, however, to successfully get a good portion of the community’s most vulnerable to take part in the survey which included 15 questions. The survey revealed that 47 respondents identified as unsheltered homeless (sleeping outdoors) and 32 reported being sheltered homeless (sleeping in a shelter). Those numbers are down slightly from 2015 (the last time the city conducted a homeless count) when 52 reported being unsheltered homeless and 33 indicated they were sheltered homeless.

This year’s count revealed that 68 per cent of Campbell River’s unsheltered homeless are male, 38 per cent are Aboriginal (which is down from 52 per cent in 2015) and that on average, a homeless person in Campbell River is male, 39 years old, and has an addiction, mental health issue or medical issue. A total of 68 per cent indicated they have a mental illness while 68 per cent said they have an addiction or substance abuse issue and 17 per cent have a physical disability.

Orr and Allan said that five per cent of respondents physically completed the survey themselves while the rest asked the interviewers to complete the survey by reading the questions aloud to them and having them fill in their answers.

“Literacy, exhaustion (heat and physical illness), emotional trauma, pain (physical injuries) and cognitive impairment due to drug use/head injury were factors in these requests. Two individuals had just be informed that they had a critical life limiting illness and that they were dying,” Orr and Allan wrote.

The pair added that of those who participated in the survey, six had arrived in Campbell River the day of the interview, most from larger centres such as Vancouver and one from as far away as Montreal.

Orr and Allan reported that newcomers said they were told to go towards the museum and Willow Point because it was quieter and safer in those areas.

“The streets had a ‘felt sense’ of being ‘tough, hard, dangerous and divisive’. There were reports of increased violence and violence incurring substantial harm,” they wrote. “Many individuals (who were identified as experiencing homelessness) were seen riding bicycles and when asked the reason – they replied; ‘I can get away faster’. A few respondents reported being harassed and demands made for ‘protection money’. Most of the respondents appeared to be intoxicated or significantly impaired by very strong drugs.”

Of the respondents in this years’ survey only five were recognized as having completed the survey from 2015, wrote Orr and Allan, adding that, “respondents and business operators as well as meal providers reported that many of the previous respondents had died – in particular the female respondents and some had moved north to the Port Hardy area.”

City council allocated $2,000 for this year’s homeless count and will set aside funds for another homeless count in 2019 and every two years after that.


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