October 5, 2023
The Province of BC has released the preliminary results of the 2023 Provincial Homeless Count. The Homeless Count applies a Point-in-Time methodology, that has been used and adapted to work in communities outside urban centres in BC since 2018. It involves using a survey and shelter enumeration to provide a number of persons experiencing homelessness in a given community in a 24-hour period.
The Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society coordinated the 2023 Provincial Homeless Count which was conducted on traditional unceded Cas Yikh territory in Smithers, BC on the evening of April 10, 2023 and the daytime of April 11, 2023.
The information contained in the 2023 Smithers Community Profile is best understood as a snapshot of homelessness in Smithers on the day of the count, and represents the minimum number of people experiencing homelessness in our community.
The Provincial 2023 count found 57 people experiencing homelessness in Smithers compared to 33 in 2021. The increase in numbers reflect the rising homelessness and housing crisis in our community, demonstrating the significance of prioritizing shelter services, housing and homeless support services.
The Smithers community profile for 2023 emphasizes the important connection between trauma and colonial legacies and homelessness in our community. Homeless counts in Smithers continue to demonstrate that Indigenous people are overrepresented in homeless populations. The 2023 count found that 83% of participants identified as Indigenous and 79% of Indigenous participants identified having either lived or inter-generational experience with residential schools. The count also highlights the connection between health and homelessness, with 72% of participants reporting two or more heath concerns, 31% reporting a mental health concern, and 75% reporting experiences with addictions.
While Smithers has been participating in the Provincial Homeless Count initiative since 2018, the 2023 count marks the first time that an Indigenous organization has led the count in this community. It is critical to highlight the extremely dedicated efforts made this year by the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre to enhance Indigenous cultural safety during the homeless count.
This approach included substantial outreach by Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre staff to all those individuals known to be experiencing homelessness, including ensuring those experiencing hidden homelessness were comfortable to participate and share their experiences. On the day of the count, the Friendship Centre also hosted a large gathering at our Indigenous Cultural Centre in Smithers, providing an easter luncheon and entertainment including drumming and singing, all those who participated received a small gift to honour their engagement.
It is critical to acknowledge that Point in Time homeless counts are always undercounts, and in the past, women, members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, Indigenous persons, racialized persons, youth, and seniors tend to be underrepresented in homeless counts. Therefore, despite our organization’s best efforts, many stories of homelessness still remain unheard.
Nonetheless, the homeless count provides incredibly important data and it is imperative that this information is utilized in Smithers to ensure that approaches to homelessness are evidence based. Today those experiencing homelessness in our community require and deserve culturally safe, trauma informed shelters, housing, medical supports and mental health and addictions services that align with their unique needs.
The 2023 homeless count data underscores the many gaps in the Smithers housing continuum, in particular a lack of a stand-alone low-barrier homeless shelter and lack of Indigenous-focused culturally safe housing to support Indigenous people with trauma and complex needs. Destigmatizing approaches designed by those with lived expertise of homelessness as well as Indigenous organizations and those who work closely with people experiencing homelessness, must be implemented in our community.
Supporting people experiencing homelessness goes beyond housing, requiring partnerships between governments, social services, housing providers, public health agencies, and the broader community. The Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society will continue to advocate and work with our community partners, including leadership at the federal, provincial and municipal level, to ensure that all people experiencing homelessness have access to adequate services and supports in our community.
The Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society would like to provide a heartfelt thank you to all of those community members experiencing homelessness who took the time to participate in the 2023 homeless count.
The Smithers homeless count is funded by the Province of British Columbia and BC Housing in partnership with the Homelessness Services Association of BC. The success of the homeless count model is due to its collaborative approach, supporting local not-for-profits to coordinate counts within their communities. This approach ensures that those who have local knowledge and trusted relationships with people who are experiencing homelessness are leading the process. We would like to thank the HSABC for placing full trust in the Friendship Centre’s Indigenous-led approach.
Thank you to those agencies who assisted to ensure individuals at shelters and the hospital were counted including the Bulkley Valley District Hospital, Northern Society for Domestic Peace and Smithers Community Services Association.
Finally, we wish to acknowledge the entire Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre team who pulled together to ensure the initiative was a success and that all those who wished to participate felt supported and safe to do so.
Annette Morgan, Executive Director, Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society