This post by Green Wood Outreach Worker, David Sheffield, earlier this week reflects the frustration of meeting people who have fallen through the cracks in our community, and are most at risk. This conversation that has started, we hope, will lead to some people who have been forced outside, coming indoors.
This cat and it's owner are homeless in Northumberland at the moment. The cat is staying at a shelter that provides food, water, support and a comfortable bed. The human is 'sleeping rough'* in our community, having been disqualified from receiving any sort of emergency shelter.
While I was making calls and visiting police stations on behalf of this person today, I was approached by another individual, also disqualified from any form of emergency shelter, also 'sleeping rough' in our community.
Incidentally, there is no appeal process if one is disqualified shelter.
I know it's summer and these people are not likely to die overnight (unlike the individuals I wrote about in February), but where is the justice, the compassion for our neighbours. And I have to ask, "will this problem be solved before winter?"
Northumberland is proud of it's reputation as a friendly, safe, caring community. But I have to question the press release when I encounter individuals who ( in spite of their being disabled, poor, injured, bullied, abused and pushed aside) are being treated as if they were criminals.
A measure of a community's values is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.
Northumberland County, your grades are low today!
I'm glad that the pets are finding shelter, but when will the same concern extend to humans in our community.
'Sleeping rough' is the most extreme form of homelessness. It means living on the street or in alleys, beside garbage bins, in public spaces, sheltered over heating ducts or in any other place not meant for human habitation. It is usually a last resort for homeless people.
By Valerie MacDonald,
NORTHUMBERLAND - More than 12% of families in Northumberland County live in poverty, according to a status report from the Northumberland Poverty Reduction Action Committee.
The report, entitled Reach Out. Change Lives, looks at the county's population of just over 82,000 people for the period 2012/13.
When asked about the key findings of the report and actions needed, committee co-chair Beth Bellaire said her first reaction was putting more money in the pockets of the poor as the first step – but it's not as easy as that.
"We have just had an increase in the minimum wage announced by the provincial government, but we also need increases to social assistance rates and rates for those on Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). However, the argument against this is that costs such as rents will just go up to negate the impact of those increases. Perhaps I would then suggest having stable, affordable, and safe shelter as the central need," she continued. "This approach of 'housing first' is gaining momentum and has been adopted by our own county council. But to maintain such shelter, a stable and sufficient income is needed - and we are back to point one.
And, she stressed, "to maintain a reasonable income, one needs a job, so now we are at another need - employment opportunities. To get to that job, there also needs to be affordable transportation and education. Of course, through all of this, people need food to merely survive."
These key themes are very inter-related and not one can be teased out, saying, "Fix this, and then poverty will be reduced," Bellaire said.
The report itself contains some very disturbing information. It includes:
Read more here...
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.
A year ago, we presented the Academy Award-winning documentary film, 'Inocente' during a community event at Trinity College School's theatre.
"At 15, Inocente refuses to let her dream of becoming an artist be caged by being an undocumented immigrant forced to live homeless for the last nine years. Color is her personal revolution and its sweep on her canvases creates a world that looks nothing like her own dark past."
Since then, people have been asking about Inocente Izucar, the young woman featured in the film. Where is she? How is she doing? David Sheffield contacted her for an update.
Here's what she has to say for herself:
Thank you so much for your message and for what you do. I am 20 years old now, I rented my first apartment when I turned 18, me and my mom are doing so much better. I moved back in with her last October.
I have been supporting myself though my art sales. Last year consisted of traveling around the US and speaking to high schools, homeless shelters, and community gatherings.
I hope to go to college this year.
Follow Inocente's progress and purchase her artwork at http://www.originalinocenteart.com
Green Wood provides assistance to many people who are homeless, according to the Canadian Definition of Homelessness created by the Homeless Hub at York University. That definition describes a spectrum that ranges from living without any shelter, on one end, to insecure housing, on the other end. For those living on that spectrum, there are common anxieties as well as a shared powerlessness to change one's circumstances.
"The problem of homelessness and housing exclusion refers to the failure of society to ensure that adequate systems, funding and support are in place so that all people, even in crisis situations, have access to housing."
-Canadian Homeless Research Network
While we don't see a high number of people in the category of 'absolute' or 'street' homelessness, the people in our community who do fall into that group are particularly vulnerable due to their invisibility, and to the lack of services available that could address their need.
We've been working with one such individual this month (a particularly cold and snowy winter to be outside), and finding safe shelter for him has been particularly frustrating. Contrary to what one might think, there is a cost to not providing housing for people.
In spite of living outdoors (yes in February, in Cobourg, Ontario) for one week, couch-surfing (not as much fun as it might sound) for two weeks, the cost of assisting this person, with a patchwork of emergency shelter situations, exceeded $900 this month. That money came from government sources as well as community-funded organizations like Green Wood Coalition, and doesn't include the working hours of various social service providers.
Along with the members of the Northumberland Affordable Housing Committee, we are actively working to define the needs of homeless people in our community, and to seek creative solutions that will bring peo
This thought-provoking, animated video clip was made in the USA which may mean some statistics vary from the Canadian experience, but the truth contained here should give pause to conversations around poverty and the government's role.
In 1993, the UN designated October 17 the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and later adopted the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger as the core of its Millennium Development Goals. The theme for this year is "Working together towards a world without discrimination: Building on the experience and knowledge of people in extreme poverty."
To mark the day, here are some things about poverty in Canada that you might not know:
Today was a day of vision and planning for our board and committee members, at Port Hope's Community Health Centre. More good things to come. Thanks to everyone (more than 80 individuals) who participated in our 4 X 4 survey!
(L-R: Jeff Knott, Jason Orchard, Pam MacDougall, Jackie Brimblecombe, Kim Orchard, Linda Hopley, Loretta Fraser, Beth Sheffield, Nicole Whitmore, Kaye Torrie, Janet Marchand, Kelly Ambrose)
On September 18, 2013, Northumberland County Council approved a 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan for the County and its seven area municipalities.
Green Wood Coalition members were pleased to be consulted on the development of this Plan, as well as to participate in both public events.
"The Ten-Year Plan is an opportunity to take stock of existing services and needs, and to set broad directions that reflect local priorities. These can help guide specific program and budget decisions from year to year. As a document that will be reviewed by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, it is a vehicle to articulate Northumberland’s plans, challenges and needs to the provincial government."
With our input, and that from other parts of the community, this Plan outlines a long-term vision and strategic plan for affordable housing and homeless-related programs and services, and identifies objectives that reflect the unique issues and needs of our area. We particularly spoke to the need for housing alternatives that will provide shelter to the homeless in our community, and to those who require additional supports in order to be successful in keeping a roof over their head.