In line with many other municipalities across B.C., Merritt’s homeless population has continued to rise over the past few years.

Numbers were released on Oct. 5 from the latest homeless count by the Homelessness Services Association of B.C., conducted in the spring of 2023 in 20 communities around the province, including Merritt.

The 24-hour study, from the evening of March 14 until the evening of March 15, saw a count of 67 people experiencing homelessness in the Merritt area, compared to 43 when the last study was done in 2020 – an increase of 55 per cent.

Of the 67 total individuals counted, 45 per cent were said to be unsheltered, meaning they were sleeping outside, in makeshift shelters or tents, or couch surfing, and would be expecting to for at least the next 30 days.

The vast majority of the unhoused were adults aged 25-54 (59 per cent), followed by seniors 55+ (31 per cent) and youth under 25 (10 per cent), similar percentages to the 2020 study.

Another similarity between the two studies is the percentage of unhoused men and women, with around two-thirds being men.

Those who identify as Indigenous were highly represented – 64 per cent of respondents were Indigenous, compared to being just 20 per cent of the population. Of the Indigenous-identifying, 76 per cent said that they, a parent or grandparent attended residential school.

In terms of reason for housing loss, fires and floods in recent years accounted for the highest percentage, followed by lack of income and unfit/unsafe housing.

67 per cent reported experiencing addiction, while 73 per cent reported having two or more health concerns, which also included medical conditions, physical disabilities, mental health and learning disabilities.

92 per cent were counted as having an income source, the most common being income assistance and disability benefit. 14 per cent were employed.

All 20 communities studied saw an increase in its homeless population.

“The results of these counts reinforce our belief that more needs to be done to help the most vulnerable members of our communities,” said Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon in a statement.

The previous count in 2018 showed 11 people experiencing homelessness in the Merritt area.