Mission’s homeless population almost tripling in the last three years is “alarming, but not surprising,” according to Mayor Pam Alexis.
Alexis says that, although the number of homeless people are definitely increasing in Mission, the spike in the Fraser Valley Regional District’s 2020 Homeless Count and Survey is due to a more accurate picture of the issue than in previous years.
“I can tell you that I’ve been following this for 10 years, and I don’t believe our counts were as accurate in the past. I always questioned the numbers,” Alexis said. “This time they [counted] over a two day period, there were more people on the team, they were more aware of the locations and I believe they captured the more accurate figure.”
The homeless count is taken every three years and meant to give agencies a rough idea of the situation in each participating city over a 24-hour period. The 2020 count showed Mission’s numbers had grown from 63 people in 2017, to 178 people today. Every other city in the region saw a spike in the numbers, but Mission’s spike was the largest.
Mission’s natural geography, more so than other cities, made it easier to miss the homeless population in previous counts because they were “off the beaten path,” according to Alexis.
Alexis said that people make claims that the district’s homeless are not actually from Mission, but that is far from the case. She said only around 15 per cent of the homeless population is transient.
The 2020 report has a chart, which wasn’t included in the summary publicly released last week, showing a high percentage of the homeless population have attachments to family doctors here in Mission, according to Alexis.
“That’s significant. Many times people say they are not from Mission, but they are. The majority are, they’ve lived here for a long time,” she said. “That’s why it’s a real concern for me, because they are from our community.”
The mayor said the report is alarming because it highlights the need for diverse and affordable housing options, including some form of permanent housing for the homeless population unable to live without supports.
She said a housing-needs assessment recently came to Mission council showing huge gaps in the district’s rental market. Mission has developed too many single-family homes instead of building with density in mind.
“We were horrified to read that we haven’t kept up with the need for many years,” Alexis said. “Mission has always been deemed affordable, and it is no longer the case.”
A new supportive housing project will be coming before council shortly, according to Alexis.
She said the district has received federal funding for an approximately $16 million facility, which will likely be some form of modular housing similar to Abbotsford’s Hearthstone Place on Gladys Avenue.
The district has, after some difficulty, identified the suitable land for this project, Alexis said.
“It’s all about location, and it’s all about ensuring support,” she said. “Mission’s current shelter, Haven in the Hollow, does not have the support system built in.
“[Hearthstone Place is] so well run and a such a great example of what it can be,” the mayor said. “There’s things in place for people to actually get help, and try and move along the housing continuum.
“Because the longer you’re not housed and living homeless, the harder it gets to transition into housing.”