I was walking up McKay Creek with a Fish and Game volunteer when we came across the tent. It was most certainly not visible from the street. It was quite a large tent, capable of sleeping four people. We could hear voices inside. We made our presence known and kept walking. Further down the creek we had also heard voices, a group of people hidden by the trees, drinking beer. I was surprised to find people “camping” in the park. The volunteer told me the police would come by and evict the campers by the next day. He told me there were many people “urban camping” all over the North Shore in parks. There were hundreds, he said, maybe more.

It was raining hard that day. It had rained endlessly for the better part of a month then more recently turned to snow. I wondered how anyone could survive living outside in such cold weather. No one has an accurate count. People hiding under bridges and sleeping in parks don’t come forward to be counted. The rain, snow and cold finally became sufficiently miserable enough for the North Shore’s emergency beds for the homeless to open up.

The province funds 20 emergency beds at the Shelter at 705 West Second Street when the weather becomes unbearable. There are also another 25 beds ready to be set up at North Shore Neighbourhood House in case of emergency. The Shelter’s emergency beds have never been used before, according to Bailey Mumford, shelter manager. The last official homeless count in the Vancouver region was done in 2014. That count noted 119 individuals living homeless on the North Shore, although the real count is most likely much higher. That count does not include all the people sleeping on floors and couches.

According to Mumford, there has been an increase in young homeless people 19 to 25 years old. The shelter is being forced to do quite a few turn-aways with families too, probably two to three families a month. There’s also been an increase of seniors needing shelter and many people are living in cars and RVs. Affordable rental units are virtually impossible to find.

The province has announced more than $500 million for new supportive and affordable housing, but not a penny is targeted for the North Shore.  There is the general public perception that the North Shore is a wealthy community not in need of any funding. The exact opposite is true. The cost of living on the North Shore is higher than anywhere else, irrespective of income. Anyone earning minimum wage can barely cover the cost of rent. Many more people are being forced to turn to food banks. Anyone “renovicted” is more than likely going to have to leave the North Shore, or even the Lower Mainland, to find affordable housing.

The North Shore community can help directly by dropping some badly needed items off at the Shelter, like warm clothes, socks, jackets, razor blades and toiletries. Evidently donating money is always quite helpful too. Not too many people have much of that these days. The Lookout Shelter is at 705 2nd St W, North Vancouver.  Phone:(604) 982-9126.

Photo: Bailey Mumford – Shelter Manager

By Michael McCarthy

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