Last year community volunteers counted 30 homeless people living in Merritt – this year, ASK Wellness Program Director Shelley Cressy-Hassel crossed her fingers for a lower number.

“It’s just a snapshot of the city, but hopefully [the number of homeless people in Merritt] will be less this year,” said Cressy-Hassel as a group of volunteers set out to canvass the city on Merritt’s third annual homeless count last Friday.

Cressy-Hassel said it would be nice to see that ASK Wellness employes’ housing outreach efforts had paid off and reduced the number of people living on Merritt’s streets, however she noted that in some cases people may have been housed last year and become homeless again due to addictions or other factors. She also said the number fluctuates as people come and go.

Nearly a dozen volunteers from community groups such as Adventist Health, Journeys into Tomorrow, and the Community Policing Office divided into groups of two or three and set out to count the homeless.

To determine whether a person was homeless or not, volunteers asked people to participate in a survey which included questions such as “do you have a place you pay rent for?” and “where did you stay last night?” The survey also identified where people came from, how old they were and what keeps them from being housed.

“Homelessness occurs across the board,” said Cressy-Hassel. “It doesn’t pick and choose.”

In addition to counting homeless people, volunteers also counted homeless camps. According to Cressy-Hassel, canvassers look for proof that someone has been sleeping in a particular location such as bedding, clothes, and trash from food.

“Last year we counted ten homeless camps,” she said. “We count the camp whether the person is there or not.”

Cressy-Hassel said that once the results of the survey are released, ASK Wellness Outreach Workers will use the results to assist people with their housing issues.

“There are some people who choose to be homeless though assistance is offered,” she adds.

During the count volunteers handed out care packages to the people they encountered.

ASK Wellness employees conducted their Kamloops count the following day.