Fine coffee and chocolate for the palette, and art for the soul: the Green Wood Creative Arts Group is displaying work at Harden & Huyse Coffee throughout July. It’s a lovely place to linger over a cuppa and check out the bold, colourful work of the Green Wood artists.
The Green Wood group meets weekly in Port Hope, to learn skills, techniques, and explore new art media with local artists. The focus of the show’s work is mixed media, a combination of drawing, collage and painting. A series of fanciful birds are light and humorous, while other pieces combine vintage images with layers of colour. Port Hope artist, Heather Roy, curated this exhibition.
For the group, art making offers an opportunity to create works that are expressive and affirming. The friendships, acceptance and encouragement the artists offer to each other are an important part of the whole experience. The Green Wood Creative Art Group has been meeting for five years, and has had such local artists as Hilda Van Netten, Alice VanderVennan and Susan MacDonald devote their time and skills to lead the group.
David Sheffield, Community Outreach Worker for Green Wood Coalition, facilitates the art group, and begins each session with a poem or reflection, to help the group focus. Some sessions are devoted entirely to the written word, and poets like Rick Webster, Cliff Bell-Smith and Carol Anne Bell-Smith share their skills in writing poetry.
The exhibition continues through the month of July at Harden & Huyse, 201 Division St., Cobourg. An opening event will be held on Thursday, July 17 from 4-6 P.M. where many of the artists will be present.
By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 11:39:58 EST AM
NORTHUMBERLAND - In many forms, homelessness exists in Northumberland. This three-part story will explore several aspects. Today's instalment offers a look at how life's sudden turns can leave someone vulnerable and in need of emergency shelter.
Youth homelessness figures provided by Northumberland United Way say 60% stay in shelters, 25% couch-surf and 15% are on the street.
Meet Sam, who has done all three.
David Sheffield, community outreach worker with Green Wood Coalition, recently brought Sam in for an interview — a 24-year-old man dressed in as many layers as he could scrounge though without gloves, clutching a small red gym bag that contained his belongings.
Originally from Peterborough, Sam (not his real name) moved to Northumberland County last March to try to reunite with his mother. They'd had a difficult relationship, but she'd just had surgery for a brain tumour and he hoped things could be patched up.
Not only did they fail to establish any real closeness, he said, she lives in a seniors building, so there's no hope of finding housing with her.
Sam stuck around, hoping to build a fresh start for himself. He got a job and found a place, and all seemed well. Then there were layoffs at his place of work, and he found himself at Transition House in Cobourg.
He managed to find a job and another place, but he lost the job and lost the place and had to return to Transition House.
A friend asked him to share the rent on a place, which seemed a good solution. But the friend had issues of his own and lost the place after a couple of months.
This time Sam didn't return to Transition House. They had no vacancies, so he lived on the street.
"It's been struggle after struggle after struggle," Sam said.
Sheffield explained that Transition House is one of very few shelters in Ontario that accommodates families, along with single men and single women. It's a unique model, but it requires reserving some bedrooms for family use. So some members of the county's affordable-housing committee reject the premise that more emergency shelter is needed because Transition House is almost never full. At the same time, Sheffield said, single people often can't get in because there isn't space.
Even when Sam was able to stay at Transition House, that was not without problems.
Though Transition House requires a signed confidentiality agreement of anyone who stays there, Sam was more than willing to discuss his experiences because he understands he is permanently red-flagged — banned from the premises.
Executive director Diane Keast of Transition House would not discuss Sam's specific situation because of confidentiality considerations. But she reiterated that rules must be enforced because of the chance that children might be on the premises.
"If a person comes back and they have been drinking, we cannot allow them back in the house, drinking or using, because we take in family situations with children," Keast said.
"If a person shows any aggression, they will be asked to leave. Aggression is not tolerated, again because we have children in the house. Those would be reasons why somebody might be red-flagged."
How permanent the ban is depends on what has occurred, she said — how many occurrences there have been and how severe.
"We just don't red-flag individuals unless there has been ongoing issues. There has to have been ongoing and severe issues," Keast said.
"Individuals are given opportunities to reverse the situation — they can talk to staff.
"Individuals just aren't asked to leave for the sake of leaving. We are a shelter, and do want to assist individuals to get back on their feet. But because we service so many different individuals in different age brackets, we have to be very strict, and there has to be rules and regulations in place.
"Therefore, if individuals find it difficult to stay here for whatever the reasons are, and they show aggression or come back after drinking, those have to be in place because of those age brackets we service.
"That is very difficult. But when we ask individuals to leave, we do give them options where they can go."
Typically, they are sent to the police station to see if they can get a motel voucher and invited to come back when they have resolved the issues that led to whatever unacceptable behaviour caused the problem.
Sam denies having been in a substance-abuse situation or being unduly disruptive, though he did chafe at some of the rules (such as the curfew) and found staff unwilling to step in when he felt it appropriate — like the time one of the men came back "drugged out of his mind."
When Sam complained, he said, "Staff got mad and told me, 'Let us do our job.'"
A debate over the matter with the staffer became an argument. Voices were raised. The staffer declared Sam out of control and kicked him out with a red-flagging.
He fought the red-flagging, even went to the Cobourg Police for help. One officer approached Transition House and got the restriction removed — and even got them to open up one of the family rooms for a couple of days.
"No less than two days later, I'm kicked out again," Sam related.
It was an argument with another man staying at Transition House that provoked this move. Voices were raised, the other man shoved Sam, but Sam was the one who was kicked out.
He tried to get the police involved, but their inspection of the security cameras showed that the incident probably happened in a blind spot and they could not help.
The police tried to advocate with Transition House on Sam's behalf once more, but to no avail. He was red-flagged again at the only homeless shelter in Cobourg — the only one, in fact, closer than Oshawa, Peterborough and Lindsay.
"How's a man from Northumberland County supposed to go to Lindsay and still build a life in Northumberland County? I am pretty much forced to move out of this community, or stay here and live how I'm living. They don't leave me much of an option," Sam said.
The Peterborough shelter is located in what was once his home town, but Sam said he'd left what he termed "not a good life" behind last year to get a fresh start in Northumberland. And the shelter there is not safe, he added. There are 30 to 50 guys in a single room, with lots of drugs and lots of assaults.
"It would be like putting a lamb in a cave full of wolves. Nothing good can come out of it."
Sam understands that Transition House must have rules, but he can't help wondering why they need some of them.
And when you leave, he added, you wouldn't dare say anything because you might need to go back at some point in the future.
Being permanently red-flagged there, he said, he has nothing to lose. If people could speak freely, he said, maybe things could change.
But that thought does little to warm a man with no shelter in one of Canada's harshest winters in living memory.
In Part 3: The option left to Sam. Click here.
From Northumberland Today, Monday March 3, 2014:
In many forms, homelessness exists in Northumberland. This three-part series will explore several aspects. Today's instalment offers a look at the big picture of local homelessness.
NORTHUMBERLAND — David Sheffield, community outreach worker with Green Wood Coalition in Port Hope, was feeling concern following a discussion on the need for emergency housing at a recent meeting of the county Affordable Housing Committee (of which Sheffield is a member).
"They were saying there's no need, there's no data to support that. Then, during the course of the week, I'm working with three people who are homeless," Sheffield said in a recent interview.
"That invisibility, the sense that it's being taken care of — that's part of the difficulty."
Homelessness is not a primary part of the coalition's mandate, Sheffield said, so much as working with people who fall through the cracks. Part of that work is collaborating with services currently in place to find a positive solution.
The best way to do that, he added, is to help create an infrastructure that recognizes the realities. Lacking that, any solution would involve a patchwork approach.
The three cases of homelessness Sheffield encountered in a single February week included two teenagers whose parents are in unstable situations, who wanted to leave and make their own way.
"They are currently couch-surfing, and that's a typical pattern if you have a network in a small town," Sheffield reported.
"At this point, they have no support of any kind, but that's not unusual.
"During the warmer months, some of those people would be living outside or in situations that aren't meant for human habitation. In the winter, it really becomes difficult. They move from couch to couch, often in overcrowded and dangerous situations."
Then there's a young man we'll call Sam, whose situation is a step down even from that.
"Sam, without housing in the winter time and having no other recourse, is the more extreme example, and that's less frequent.
"Over the course of this year, there have been probably half a dozen crisis situations that came to us. And I know there are other crisis situations coming to other front-line workers," Sheffield said.
"In our work, we are connected to a community of people, and in that community there would be a number of people who are constantly in some state of homelessness."
The definition of homelessness can be as narrow or as broad as one wishes to make it. In Sheffield's work, he tends to subscribe to the Canadian Homelessness Research Network's definition that is in use at the York University Homeless Hub. It has four main categories and 12 sub-categories.
"Sam would be in the number-one category. At any given time in Northumberland County, you can find people in all 11 other categories," he said.
"Absolute homelessness or street homelessness is somewhat rare. But if that is the only way you define homelessness, you miss the rest of the definition. On the farthest end of the scale, that includes people who are one pay cheque away from losing their place. What they all have in common is anxiety around retaining housing and the inability to do anything about it.
"In those 12 categories, people move around among them — people who are currently living free on someone's couch or making some kind of arrangement, people living in motels, people who over the course of a year live at four different addresses because they are not able to maintain housing for a variety of reasons.
"And if you had four addresses in a year, that probably means you have gone through four landlords," Sheffield pointed out.
"In a small community, it will become increasingly difficult to find a place to rent — and there's a shortage of housing here, with a very low vacancy rate and relatively high rent rates. A single person on Ontario Works will get $600 a month. The average in the Cobourg-Port Hope area is $800 to $850 for a one-bedroom apartment."
Since the accepted definition of affordable housing is that it costs no more than one-third of your income, Sheffield said, affordable housing for someone on Ontario Works would be $200 a month.
"There are rare situations of shared accommodations, rooming situations that can get lower. But when those exist, they tend to be $300 to $400 a month," he said.
"That might the best situation for a single person getting welfare. Otherwise, people end up paying their whole cheque for rent somewhere, or go into a situation with other people that is unsafe and leads to other social challenges."
Part 2: The next installment offers a look at how life's sudden turns can leave someone vulnerable and in need of emergency shelter. Click here.
To donate a clean, gently used coat to our One Warm Coat campaign, drop it off during the month of December at the following times at our two designated locations:
FRANK'S PASTA & GRILL
426 King St. E.
Daily, noon to 8 PM
93 WALTON ST.
Port Hope, ON
Tuesdays 11 am-2 pm
Thursdays 5-8 pm
Saturdays 11 am-2 pm
To make a cash donation to Green Wood's community program fund, use the DONATE NOW button on this site, or mail to P.O. Box 61, Port Hope, ON L1A 2Z2.
The month of October was a brilliant time for our Creative Arts Group as we enjoyed the privilege of spending time in the studios of several working artists in our community. Huge thanks to Katie Flindall, Jo Murphy and Helen Kennedy for generously welcoming us into their creative spaces.
The Northumberland community is losing a dear friend as Mary Anne Rowlands and her husband, Doug, leave today for retirement to the East Coast. In addition to the great work that Mary Anne accomplished while she was an Outreach Worker with Green Wood, she managed The Help Centre in Cobourg for a dozen years, endearing herself to many people who found themselves struggling with poverty and disability.
Mary Anne brought compassion and understanding to these roles that went far beyond typical job expectations. She will be greatly missed by this community, but we wish her and Doug our best as they embark on a new adventure. Thank you, Mary Anne.
Our weekly Creative Arts Group was in the shade of our backyard today, messing with fabric dyes, making fabulous tie-dye magic like this. The Thursday group is always a great exercise in letting go of other (usually more difficult) parts of life to focus on something positive. Be sure to drop by Harden & Huyse Cafe in Cobourg to see the exhibition of the group's work that's on display until the end of July.
Opening night of an exhibition of recent work by the Green Wood Creative Arts Group. The show was curated by Cobourg artist, Alice Vander Vennen. In addition to the wonderful art on display, the evening included a performance by Roger Scannura and Laurence Stevenson of Rimo Flamenco.
This show is on view at Harden & Huyse Cafe (201 Division St., Cobourg, ON) until July 31.