The Capital Region has seen a drop in the number of unsheltered homeless people since 2016, according to a newly released survey. The latest Point in Time Count found there were 18 per cent fewer unsheltered people compared to the last time the study was conducted in 2016.

The survey covered a larger area this year and found 158 unsheltered people on the night of March 15, 2018. The total count found that 1,525 people were homeless and more than 900 of them participated in this year’s survey.

“The results show that there is a significant problem with Aboriginal homelessness, youth homelessness and senior homelessness,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who also serves as co-chair of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. “And really those are the three areas that came up needing a lot of focus.”

The survey found homelessness starts at an early age, with 41 per cent of respondents saying they had their first homeless experience at the age of 18 or younger.

It also found 17.4 per cent of the homeless population surveyed were under 25 years old.

“If we can get to young people and make sure that they are safe and secure particularly as they’re coming out of foster care. We’re going to be able to do a lot of good prevention and it really is heartbreaking to see that many young people ending up on the streets,” said Helps.

Almost one-fifth of the people surveyed (19.4 per cent) were over the age of 55. Most of them said they were homeless due to economic issues and have been homeless for a long period of time. Of the people surveyed, 78.8 per cent said they were homeless for more than six months over the past year.

One-third of respondents identified as Indigenous, which Helps felt was disproportionate compared to 4.7 per cent of people in the Greater Victoria region identifying as Indigenous.

“Although the Point in Time Count process has limitations and can’t track trends over time, it provides a minimum estimate of the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night,” said Stefanie Hardman, the research manager for Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria. “We thank the many volunteers who helped administer the survey as it provides valuable information that will support service planning and delivery in the region.”

The CRD says these initiatives will assist real time reporting of homelessness levels and achieve better outcomes for people experiencing homelessness in the region.

“There is a silver lining,” said Helps. “For the first time in a very long time, from both the federal government through the national housing strategy and the provincial government for their commitments, there is oodles of money in order to build housing. Now we got to translate that funding into housing and this survey is really useful because it shows us specifically where we need to focus.”

A $90-million partnership between CRD, BC Housing and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will fund the development of 400 housing units. The units will be offered at social assistance shelter rates to address the needs of people experiencing chronic homelessness.