Understanding the 2017 Homeless Count Results

Given the media coverage, misunderstanding and misapplication of the results of the homeless count it is clearly important to understand what the homeless count IS and IS NOT. Failing to understand what the homeless count is and isn’t is what makes the homeless count one more behaviour that contributes to the growth of homelessness.


The urge to count the homeless to determine the magnitude of the challenge, and as a way to judge the degree of success [or failure] in addressing homelessness, is understandable.

However, the current misinterpretation of the count results means that the results lead to actions enabling the increase of the number of homeless .

In order to avoid misusing the count results, thereby increasing the number of homeless on the streets, you would ideally redesign the count to generate numbers close to the actual number of homeless and to produce results with a high degree of consistency. Given the complexity involved in a count designed to count all the homeless, a redesign is unlikely.

Without redesign understanding the results requires the count data be filtered through an awareness of what the count is and isn’t, as well as the reality of homelessness – as delineated by  experience.

The current homeless count is about providing a ‘snapshot’ that can be compared to past or future counts to judge progress. The problem is that the high degree of inconsistency inherent in the count design requires informed evaluation of the results to avoid fallacy and its consequences.

Currently, if you conducted the count on one day and conducted a second count the very next day you would get two different results that would be notably different – up or down.

This year the reflection of the actually number of homeless by Abbotsford’s count benefitted significantly from extreme weather, which increased the number of homeless accessible and participating.

Comparing the 2017 [271] numbers to the 2014 [151] numbers creates the false impression that there has been a huge jump in homelessness from 2014 to 2017.

Yes, between 2014 and 2017 the number of homeless continued to climb year by year. But, as a result of extreme weather the 2017 results better reflect the actual number of homeless in Abbotsford. If the 2014 count had had the same degree of reality as 2017’s count then the number of homeless counted in 2014 would have been significantly higher and the % difference between 2014 and 2017 would be smaller.

The next [2020’s] count may well result in a total lower than 271, depending on conditions and circumstances at the time of the 2020 count. In fact, in light of the effect extreme weather had on the 2017 count there is a significant probability that the 2020 total will be lower. Not because the number of homeless decreased, but because the 2020 count will be less reflective of the actual number of homeless on the streets.

Mr. van Wyk’s statement “We are certainly not responding fast enough, it would appear” is an example of failing to properly evaluate the data collected in the homeless count.

The count does not suggest, much less say, the services being provided to the homeless are not being delivered fast enough and need to be delivered faster.

The count says, nay screams, the services being delivered to the homeless are totally ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars in terms of enabling the homeless to achieve and maintain stable housing, mental wellness and sobriety.

Delivering totally ineffective services faster is pointless.

No matter how fast you deliver a service or services that are totally ineffective – useless – that service [services] will remain ineffective and a total waste of taxpayer dollars…….outside of the employment and profit of those delivering the service. Continuing to deliver services that have demonstrated that they are ineffectual will only continue to enable the growth of homeless numbers.

The results of this year’s count, and of prior year’s counts, clearly state that we need to change what we are doing; stop what is well demonstrated to be ineffective and to enable increased homeless numbers, and change our policies and services to those that have demonstrated they effectively reduce the number of homeless.


***Assuming*** the goal is to reduce the number of homeless…….

…….if not the count makes absolutely clear that Abbotsford’s Homeless Action Plan, development of a coordinated intake system and the other actions – and non-actions – by Abbotsford’s mayor and city council have been extremely successful at increasing the homeless population of Abbotsford.

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