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A very filthy room of one's own

Continued from Page 3

"In the past couple of months, we were getting upwards of 15 people who had to leave our doors knowing they had no place to go, knowing they would be unsafe for the night. That is very disturbing," says Ms. Low, who has worked at the centre for 16 years.

Out on the sidewalk, Bernie Williams, who works with the United Native Nations, an organization that provides support for urban aboriginals, says homeless women have become increasingly desperate.

"We've been hearing from women turned away from shelters because there's no room," she says. "It's just not acceptable any more. . . . A lot of women are getting sick down here, living out in the cold. Our mayor should be ashamed of himself."

Behind her, on a building wall, someone had put up posters that read: "We want housing" and "Change Cruel Situation. Give Shelter."

"This is a very serious situation. It's just not improving at all down here," says Deborah Mannette, a long-time Downtown Eastside resident who has come to the centre to show support. She lives in an SRO nearby, which is barely better than life on the street, she says.

"Apparently our government doesn't see, hear or care. . . . Nobody is watching and nobody gives a damn."

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A city's crisis

Homelessness is the biggest problem that Vancouver faces ó and it's getting worse, according to a new poll by The Strategic Counsel. The poll of 500 Vancouver residents aged 18 years or older was conducted between Nov. 24 and Nov. 29; polls of this size are considered accurate to within 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

What is the most important issue facing the Vancouver area?

Homelessness: 24%

Traffic and transit issues: 22%

Quality of health care: 15%

Crime: 12%

Poverty: 7%

Environmental issues: 6%

House prices: 10%

Don't know/ other: 4%

How serious is the issue of homelessness in Vancouver*?

Somewhat serious: 40%

Very serious: 53%

Don't know: 1%

Not serious: 7%

Is the problem of homelessness in Vancouver getting better, worse, or the same?

Getting worse: 72%

The same: 22%

Getting better: 2%

Don't know: 4%

* Numbers may not add up to 100 due to rounding

SOURCE: THE STRATEGIC COUNSEL

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Down and out, for the count

Nobody knows how many homeless people there are in Canada but estimates range from 150,000 to 250,000. Homelessness remains a largely undefined problem because no reliable method for counting people who live on the streets has been determined. Although several cities conduct counts, not all follow the same methodology, leading to data that can't be compared. Ottawa, for example, has results that indicate it has more homeless people than either Vancouver or Toronto, which have much larger populations. Some jurisdictions use point in time counts, which aim to determine the number of homeless people in a geographic area on a given day. Others use period counts, annualizing the numbers to determine the total number of individuals in a given year who are homeless. Some counts rely only on people staying in shelters; others exclude detox units, recovery houses or hospitals. Some don't include emergency shelters for abused women. Counting people who live hidden, under bridges or in alley ways, and those who are often on the move and don't follow a regular timetable is a difficult task.

Homeless numbers by city

POINT IN TIME COUNT

Vancouver: 2,174

Kamloops: 168

Calgary: 3,436

Edmonton: 2,192

Lethbridge: 131

Winnipeg: 125

Hamilton: 399

Toronto: 5,052

Halifax: 266

PERIOD COUNT

Ottawa: 8,853

Montreal: 17,000

Populations of cities 2001

Vancouver: 1,968,965

Kamloops: 86,491

Calgary: 951,395

Edmonton: 37,845

Lethbridge: 67,374

Winnipeg: 671,274

Hamilton: 662,401

Toronto: 4,682,897

Ottawa: 774,072

Montreal: 3,326,447

Halifax: 359,111

SOURCES: THE HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS BRANCH, HUMAN RESOURCES & SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT CANADA

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Series schedule

Monday

Two degrees short of salvation: How the streets killed Francis McAllister

Today

An unnatural disaster: Don't blame Vancouver's climate

Tomorrow

Suburban sprawl: The homeless outside of the East Side

Thursday

There is a way: A road map out of dead-end streets

Friday

But is there a will? Victoria and city hall react

Follow the series on globeandmail.com, CKNW radio and CTV News.

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