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Breaking bread with the homeless

Langley homeless count co-ordinator Fraser Holland (left) reviews a questionnaire at St. Andrew’s United Church in Fort Langley as church volunteer Peggy Lenti looks on. Area churches and assistance agencies offered free meals Wednesday to encourage homeless people to fill out the surveys.   - Dan FERGUSON/Langley Times
Langley homeless count co-ordinator Fraser Holland (left) reviews a questionnaire at St. Andrew’s United Church in Fort Langley as church volunteer Peggy Lenti looks on. Area churches and assistance agencies offered free meals Wednesday to encourage homeless people to fill out the surveys.
— image credit: Dan FERGUSON/Langley Times

At a special Wednesday afternoon lunch for the homeless at St. Andrews Church in Fort Langley, the menu included home-made vegetable soup with chick peas, tomatoes, onions and carrots, made-from-scratch biscuits and banana cake.

In return for the free food, diners were invited to participate in a regional homelessness survey.

It was one of six community meals offered during a one-day count of the homeless in Langley.

The meals were held at different times and locations at three local churches and three outreach programs in addition to the regular lunch offered by the Gateway homeless shelter.

“You break bread and that’s how you connect,” explained Lyse Bissonnette, a mental health professional who was one of about 50 volunteer counters who fanned out through both Langleys.

The Langley effort was part of a region-wide survey of streets, fields and shelters to count the number of homeless across the Lower Mainland in a single 24-hour snapshot.

More than 700 trained volunteers took part in the survey, which is held every three years.

After some screening questions to identify a person as homeless, the questionnaire delved into the reasons why.

There were about 20 questions including “what do you think is keeping you from finding a place?” and what is the “main reason you did not stay at a shelter?”

It will take about a month to collect and sort through the data before a report is issued.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll see a stemming of the tide of homelessness — that we’ll see the numbers leveling off, if not reduced,” said James Pratt, spokesman for the Greater Vancouver Shelter Strategy.

Pratt said fewer clients have used extreme cold weather spaces this winter, suggesting more street homeless are taking advantage of extra shelter beds that opened in Vancouver and other parts of the region since the last count in 2008.

There were 2,660 homeless people found across Metro Vancouver three year ago, an increase of 22 per cent from the previous count in 2005.

The largest numbers of homeless were in Vancouver (1,372), Surrey (388), New Westminster (123) and North Vancouver (116).

That survey found 86 homeless people in Langley, about three per cent of the total for the Lower Mainland (Vancouver had the highest portion at 59 per cent, while the lowest was in Delta - White Rock at one per cent).

This year’s survey will for the first time count people of no fixed address in hospitals, jails, detox centres and other transition facilities.

The Langley count was co-ordinated by Fraser Holland, the program manager of the Stepping Stone Community Services Society.

Holland said offering meals to encourage participation is something unique, part of a Langley history of unusual cooperation among local churches, even those of different denominations, to aid the homeless.

“Long before there was a shelter [in Langley to help the homeless] it was the faith-based community,” Holland said.

Holland was carrying chocolate Easter eggs Wednesday for any homeless people found outside the shelter and special dinners.

— with files from Jeff Nagel

 

 

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