VICTORIA -- The annual Greater Victoria Point-In-Time Homeless Count and Housing Needs Survey (PiT) has been released and has found that at least 1,500 people are experiencing homelessness in the region.

The PiT survey, which was conducted between March 11 and 12, found that at least 1,523 people were experiencing homelessness, which includes individuals who are entirely unsheltered, those who are staying in emergency shelters, people who were couch surfing and those who were in public systems, such as transitional housing.

The homeless count and housing needs survey was created by more than 175 volunteers and staff who work for community and government organizations, including the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness and the Capital Regional District.

The PiT report notes that the survey was conducted before some local and provincial housing initiatives were launched amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which would not have affected the overall homeless count, but would have shifted numbers between unsheltered people and provisionally sheltered individuals.

Survey findings

“The Point-in-Time project is much more than a tool used to count the number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night,” reads the survey report.

“It is a strategy used to provide insight into the nature and extent of homelessness within a community.”

This year’s survey revealed details into the lives of those who are homeless in Greater Victoria.

The vast majority of unsheltered people, at 82 per cent, have been homeless for at least six months, an increase of 10 per cent from last year.

Meanwhile, most homeless individuals, at 63 per cent, have been identified as men. Women make up 33 per cent of Victoria’s homeless population while transgender individuals make up two per cent.

The survey also found that more than one-third of all homeless individuals, 35 per cent, are Indigenous people. Overall, Indigenous people only represent five per cent of Greater Victoria’s entire population.

“Widespread research indicates that colonial treaties, policies and practices designed to eradicate Indigenous cultures across Canada, including residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, have led to intergenerational trauma, causing extensive health and social implications for Indigenous people today,” reads the survey.

The Point-In-Time survey also found that many people in Victoria first became homeless in their youth.

Approximately one in two unsheltered people in the city became homeless when they were under the age of 25.

Meanwhile, approximately one in three homeless individuals in Victoria grew up in foster care as a child. Of those people, roughly one-third became homeless within just one month of leaving government care.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost every person experiencing homelessness in Greater Victoria reported having at least one health challenge.

The health challenges ranged from substance use issues to mental health challenges to physical disabilities, including brain injuries, of which nearly one-third of all respondents are said to have had.

The PiT survey says that homelessness exacerbates these health challenges, which can make it harder for individuals to recover and find housing in the future.

Of the more than 850 individuals who responded to the survey, most said they needed access to permanent housing and health services.

Respondents said that the top three obstacles to finding housing were high rent, low income and lack of housing options.

Meanwhile, respondents said the top three most-needed services in the region included primary care services, substance use services and mental health supports.

“While people experiencing homelessness make up a small portion of the Greater Victoria Region at large, it is clear that individuals and families are struggling to find affordable housing options,” reads the survey.

“High rents, lack of available housing, low incomes, and health challenges (e.g., physical/mental health, substance use) are some of the challenges people experiencing homelessness face when trying to access and maintain stable housing.”

The PiT survey recommends investing in low-income housing and expanding health supports in Greater Victoria. Researchers also emphasized that it was important to engage with the local homeless population to determine how the housing and health facilities should be built moving forward.