Volunteers conducted a recovery home homeless count in Surrey Wednesday (March 11). (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Chilliwack Progress)

Surrey recovery home homeless count hopes to ‘shed some light’ on vulnerable sector

Phoenix Society CEO says Surrey is the ‘biggest epicenter’ of recovery homes in B.C.

A homeless count at more than 30 recovery homes in Surrey is hoping to “shed some light” on just how many people who leave the facilities are at risk of homelessness.

Keir Macdonald, the CEO of Phoenix Drug & Alcohol Recovery & Education Society, said Wednesday (March 11) was the first time recovery centres have been included in the Metro Vancouver Homeless Count, which was March 3 and 4.

READ ALSO: Volunteers search for ‘hidden problem’ during Surrey’s homeless count, March 5, 2020

Macdonald said that, historically, the definition of homelessness or at risk of homelessness was around this “30-day stay.”

“In shelters, if you didn’t have somewhere to stay for more than 30 days, you were counted to be at risk of homelessness,” he said. “For the Metro (Vancouver) count, that’s what they’ve always used, even though in the shelter system, people have been staying in shelters now for three, six, 12 months over the last few years.”

Because of that, Macdonald said, “there was really no tracking around folks that were moving in and out of those (recovery) programs.”

He said most of those people have nowhere to go at the end of their programs.

“It’s really been this huge hidden homeless population that I’ve really been trumpeting over the last year since I came into the role with Phoenix,” Macdonald said. “Many people give up their housing to come into programs, so even those that may have been housed prior to joining a program… it’s hard to hold that rental for three months in the private market.”

As for Surrey, Macdonald said it’s the “biggest epicenter” of recovery homes in the province, housing more than 500 people in more than 50 licensed treatment facilities.

Jonquil Hallgate, the co-chair of the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Task Force, said it’s estimated that 60 per cent of people in treatment centres would be homeless if they weren’t in a program.

“Most of the people living in those facilities… if they weren’t staying there, if they weren’t in that program, they figure around 60 per cent of the people that are in recovery would be homeless,” Hallgate said. “That’s significant in terms of people who have been street homeless and people who would be going to street homelessness if they weren’t in that program.”

Macdonald said that’s what he’s hoping the count will “shed some light” on. He said one of the questions of the survey is “Where will you live when you leave the recovery home?”

Macdonald said that about 35 facilities, with about 300 to 350 people, would be taking part in the survey.

He said it would be an addendum for the Surrey homeless count, with the reason for the count being two-fold: to help keep the community up to date on the situation and to lobby for more funding.

“The recovery sector provides a vital component of that service continuum, but it is temporary accommodation. We really need to be not just looking at the shelters and folks that are living rough, but those that are otherwise precariously housed to be planning ahead for appropriate housing resources for this population,” Macdonald said.

“The recovery sector, they don’t get access to rental supplements to help move people forward. They don’t get access to outreach workers to help people navigate and find housing, so 100 per cent it’s also about lobbying the government to better support these resources to help house people at the end of the programs.”

The results from the count, Macdonald said, will hopefully follow the same timeline as the Metro Vancouver Homeless Count, which will see preliminary numbers released in April and the full report in September.


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