In January, Bruce Halverson said police and Township of Langley workers showed up to evict him and about half a dozen other people from a camp in the woods near McLeod Athletic Park. During the first 11 months of 2016, the Township spent roughly $121,000 to clean up homeless camps.

2016, a look back at the rising rate of homelessness

The problem of homelessness among both adults and youth was brought into sharp focus in the last year

  • Dec. 29, 2016 6:00 p.m.

Among the most pressing issue for residents and governments alike in 2016, as it has been for the past number of years, was the growing number of  homeless people in the community.

• In February 2015, the City of Langley announced it would strike a pair of task forces, one to examine the issue of homelessness, the other, crime. Both were to be comprised of members of council, appropriate community groups and the public at large.

In April 2016, after 14 months of discussions, the task force on homelessness issued a report. It indicated that between 2002 and 2014, the number of homeless people counted in the City had ballooned from 22 to 94. However that figure is believed to be well below the actual number.

Chaired by Coun. Gayle Martin, the task force identified a set of six key priorities, only three of which could be accomplished by the City without help from other levels of government.

Among them, creating a partnership with the Township; forming a homelessness action table, which could work in committee to propose new municipal, legislation; and forming a homelessness integration team.

The other three priorities which would require action outside the City’s jurisdiction were: an increase in rent supplements — which the City can only advocate for to B.C. Housing; more integrated intervention for health issues from Fraser Health; and a Fraser Valley regional homelessness table, which could identify a co-operative strategy between the area’s municipalities.

• By  March a push was also on for a shelter for homeless youth, who currently have no official place to go when they can no longer sleep on a friend’s couch.

More than 120 people attended a forum on youth homelessness  — organized and led by students — that took place at the Langley School Board office on April 6. A youth homelessness task force was formed, comprised of approximately 15 students and their advisors.  An estimated 160 youth in Langley are at risk of homelessness, the task force found.

In September, the group hosted a fundraising concert at the Langley Events Centre to begin raising money for a shelter dedicated to youth.

The group stressed the day of live music was just the first of many events they would host to help them achieve their goal.

• In response to public complaints about a growing homeless encampment along the Nicomekl River, the City of Langley took steps in September, brokering a deal with B.C. Housing in to arrange funding for 30 temporary emergency relief mats to be added to the existing beds at the Gateway of Hope shelter.

• The following month, Langley MLA Mary Polak hosted a public forum, which was attended by more than 200 people. Polak, Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag, Mayor Ted Schafer and RCMP Supt. Murray Power fielded questions and heard comments from members of the public, including the homeless community.

“People are tired of being addicted. They want help and there is no help for them. Put your money into that,” Randal Dickinson, a homeless man, told the panel.

• The early arrival of winter created a new challenge for people living without permanent shelter as well as for those whose role it is to help them. As temperatures plummeted in December, Gateway of Hope shelter workers found themselves welcoming nearly 100 people each night.

• On a freezing night in December, while standing near a bonfire, Darcy, who is homeless, told a Times reporter that for the first time this year, he is afraid for his personal safety.

• Although the issue is less visible in the Township than in the City, that municipality spent roughly $121,000 clearing away homeless camps during the first 11 months of the year. That number is within the municipality’s  budgeted amount and is around twice what the City spent ($61,671) during the same period.

The City projected that amount will grow to $70,000 by the end of the year, nearly 10 times the $7,245 that was budgeted.

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