Homelessness continues to be an issue throughout the Fraser Valley and across the province.

Homeless numbers rising in Mission

All communities need more services, and the increases in Abbotsford and Mission indicate more work is needed.

The number of people living on the streets in Mission has increased by 39 per cent since 2011, according to the 2014 Homelessness Survey conducted for the Fraser Valley Regional District.

“It’s hard to explain why the number has increased in Mission, but we see these variations from time to time,” explained Dr. Ron van Wyk, who presented the final findings to the regional district last month. Preliminary numbers were released last April. “The fact the numbers have not overall dramatically increased is a good sign.”

The total number of homeless counted in six communities where the survey was conducted was 346. Increases were also recorded in Abbotsford and Boston Bar, but decreases were noted in Chilliwack and Hope. Agassiz-Harrison numbers remained unchanged. The surveys are done every three years.

All communities need more services, and the increases in Abbotsford and Mission indicate more work is needed on efforts to provide supportive long-term housing to people with challenges, said van Wyk.

There are currently 20 beds at Haven in the Hollow and 44 beds at Rivendell in Mission for the homeless to access.

“One person homeless is too many,” said van Wyk. “We need to start with housing, then wrap services around it for folks.”

Mission Mayor Randy Hawes said the recently released survey is already out of date, and doesn’t put “a lot of stock” in the report.

“Things are in such a state of flux.

“About this time of year, new faces show up (in Mission). You will see people on the streets that you know are homeless. They show up in the spring, hang around for the summer, then disappear in the fall.”

Hawes believes there is a “serious addiction and mental health problem” in the Lower Mainland that needs to be addressed.

“The problem is getting worse, not better,” he said, noting Mission is working on initiatives to help, like Stone Soup, an outreach program to connect services to people who are homeless or suffering from addiction.

Fraser Health is also working with Mission and Abbotsford to establish an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team for the region to support and help treat vulnerable citizens with mental health and addiction issues.

“We need to identify who they are, what brought them to this (being homeless), and how we can help them.”

Last year, surveyors spoke with 75 homeless people during a 24-hour period in March. While the number has increased compared to three years ago, when it was 54, it is lower than the 100 recorded in 2008.

More than half of the people that were interviewed in 2014 were men (58 per cent) and between the ages of 30 to 49 (54 per cent). About 25 per cent of respondents were in their 20s, and about 17 per cent were over the age of 50.