When the Richmond Homelessness Coalition (RHC) held its first Homeless Connect event in 2009, about 20 people showed up, mostly men.
Last year, that figure jumped to about 40 and included women, seniors, youth and immigrant families.
"That number was more of a reflection on the face of homelessness in Richmond," said Lynda Brummitt, the RHC facilitation administrator.
Although men make up much of Richmond's street homeless, advocates have been increasingly aware of the invisible homeless population - individuals who find shelter through living in a car, couch surfing or moving from family member to family member.
Raising awareness of this group is the focus of this year's 8th Annual Homeless Action Week, an initiative organized by the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness.
Next week, Oct. 13-19, organizations across the region aim to raise awareness and spur community action to fight the issue, particularly the increase of invisible homelessness, estimated to make up about 80 per cent of the population.
Richmond's event, run by the RHC, takes place on Oct. 17 at St. Alban's Church and includes free haircuts, clothing donations, dental checkups, food and flu shots.
"There are also a number of agencies," said Brummitt. "This can really help people become familiar with them and know where to go."
Brummitt has seen a rise in homeless seniors, who are generally on a low, fixed income. Expensive housing is also one of the main causes.
After last year's action week, the RHC decided to form a group drop-in, almost like a mini-action week. People can drop into St. Alban's every day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for a place to escape the weather, get food and help in accessing community services.
The coalition is also working on getting emergency and supportive housing for women in Richmond. Where Nova House helps women suffering from domestic abuse, homeless women need to go to Vancouver or Surrey for the nearest shelter. The latest Metro Vancouver Homeless Report in 2011 counted 15 (one per cent) sheltered homeless and 34 (four per cent) unsheltered in Richmond.
The total numbers steadily rose from 31 in 2002 to 56 in 2008, but then saw a dip to 49 from 2008 to 2011. But Brummitt guesses the number could be as high as 200, from police reports and talking to community members.
For more information on Homeless Action Week, visit stophomelessness.ca.
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