Homeless count begins in Kamloops
The sun was still in bed, but the back parking lot at the ASK Wellness Centre in North Kamloops was swarming with activity.
This year's annual homeless count began on Thursday, Oct. 18, with a shelter count.
But, on Friday, it was time for the legwork as volunteers fanned out across the city with clipboards, surveys and backpacks filled with clean socks, deodorant and other personal supplies.
In a dispatch centre at the back of the building, outreach worker Ken Salter was orienting volunteer teams, blacking off areas of a city map as each was assigned.
His first goal of the day: Get the riverbanks covered.
"The riverbanks are the most popular for people who camp out, but there's other places like Peterson Creek Park. There's guys that don't have camps. They just sleep in the downtown," he said.
"So, any businesses that have cardboard out behind their business — cardboard is a homeless person's mattress or roof. They go everywhere and anywhere and they move around."
On the map, red thumbtacks marked out homeless camps Salter had visited in the past few days — but, he said, those locations could be empty by the time volunteers hit the banks of the Thompson.
"They're not necessarily there today because they move," he said. "Because if they don't, somebody will complain to bylaw, bylaw will come down and make them move anyway. They'll camp for a couple nights one in one spot and then move down the beach a couple of hundred yards."
Joining this year's volunteers was a group of Thompson Rivers University students who Salter assigned to the alleyways between Fortune Drive and Tranquille Road.
"I haven't seen that many homeless people in Kamloops," admitted Kaitlin, a second-year nursing student. "So, I wanted to get out there and find out where they live and if I can help."
An hour later, the area proved largely empty, save for a few dog walkers.
That's not uncommon, Salter said.
"But, just because there's nobody there today, it doesn't mean there won't be somebody there tomorrow.
"And, anywhere there's a green space or abandoned vehicle to climb in, just anywhere."
This year's count is the first since 2005 in which a full-scale report will be complied based on the data collected. It's also the first time the count is being done using criteria set out by the province in an attempt to standardize counts across B.C.
The report will be released in November, but Salter said he expects it will show between 60 and 75 people are homeless in Kamloops.
That would be up from 2011's count of 45 people, but still down from previous years, when about 100 homeless people were identified.
"We've been questioned about whether we found them all or not [during the last count], so this year will kind of show us whether we missed some or not," Salter said.
While the count gives groups in the city numbers to point to when they're lobbying for funding, Salter said it's more important as an outreach activity, for both the volunteers and the homeless community.
"I think a lot of people that aren't in this business would be surprised to hear that there's 60 people living outside in Kamloops," he said.
"People don't know that."
Those who are counted, meanwhile, get to see others in the city trying to do something to alleviate their problems.
"It's an acknowledgement to them that we know that they're out there and they're part of our community."