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.
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.
[From the December edition of The Fourth and One Fifth}
BY DAVID SHEFFIELD
Each year when December rolls around, I’m reminded of the words of Charles Dickens. No, not a line from one of his famous Christmas stories, it’s the opening paragraph of his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, that comes to mind. From my perspective as a Community Outreach Worker spending time with people who live in poverty, this season truly is “the best of times” for some of us and “the worst of times” for too many others.
Whether it’s the expectation of gifts given to children, family re-united, or celebrations around a ta-ble fi lled with plenty, if we’re ever going to hope for something better to happen in our lives, the Christmas season seems to ignite that hope. It must be some sort of universal yearning that causes even the person who’s too jaded to buy into happy ending Christmas specials, to somehow allow themselves a little hope at this time.
For anyone living in poverty, the messy realities of life compete with pretty lights and piped-in carols and make for a particularly difficult time. The public excesses of the shopping and feasting season are painful reminders of what’s missing. Poverty comes in variety of packages, and while material poverty is the most immediate, loss of family, community, culture and spirit leave significant empty spaces inside of us. Christmas seems to have the ability to conjure up memories of innocent childhood delight for some, and for others, tragic reminders of abuse, violence and hunger.
One December when I was, maybe, 11 or 12, I remember discovering that Richard, a likeable young man that my family had gotten to know, was living in a shed with few warm clothes. The unheated building belonged to some of his relatives, who were doing their best to help him out, but their house was already crowded and they were at the limits of their resources. Family breakdown, lack of employment opportunities and the onset of winter had forced him to take refuge where he could.
Although my parents had little to spare, they were able to help out with some warm clothes and food for Richard that winter. But that face-to-face encounter with desperate poverty on my doorstep has stayed with me. I wish I could say that sad stories from my childhood were as distant as a Dickens tale, but I can’t. I’ve recently been working with a man who found himself past middle-age, out of work, without shelter, transportation or phone access. He’d already been living this way for a few months when he asked for help.
After we found a single room to rent, it took us another month of navigating the system before he could move into it. Now he’s trying to fi gure out how to get on his feet again with resources of $200/month left, after he pays his rent. Hopefully, this Christmas will feel a little less like “the worst of times” for him.
In the course of going out and spending time with people who are disconnected from existing services and living in poverty, not surprisingly, I encounter difficult, and sometimes tragic, stories. But very often, I am equally inspired and up-lifted by caring, sharing individuals in our community who are willing to step outside of their comfort zone to be present with a struggling person.
In recent weeks, I’ve seen many people offering time and money in support of their neighbours in a variety of ways. From Coats for Kids to the Salvation Army’s Food Hampers, from The Giving Tree to the Fare Share Food Bank, this community’s generosity is evident at this time of year. If you’re feeling like you want to reach out to some-one living in poverty during this season, there are still opportunities. Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day will be offered in two locations this year, providing a delicious meal to anyone who doesn’t have a better place to be on Christmas. St. Mark’s Anglican Church will be the Port Hope venue, while The Salvation Army Church will host the Cobourg dinner. Volunteers and donations are needed to make all of this happen.
Since buying a good winter coat is often a luxury for many, Green Wood Coalition, the outreach organization that I work with, is holding a One Warm Coat drive through December. One Warm Coat is dedicated to collecting and distributing clean, gently used winter coats--free of charge and without discrimination—directly to children and adults in our area. Coats may be dropped off at two locations, 93 Walton St., Port Hope and at Frank’s Pasta & Grill, 426 King St., E., Cobourg.
To get further details or make a financial donation, visit greenwoodcoalition.com.Whether we are in a position to help out materially or not, we all have the ability to acknowledge the existence of another person with a smile and eye contact. A small gesture can lessen the loneliness that is as much a part of this season as twinkling lights. Let’s hope for a Christmas season that isn’t “the worst of times” for anyone.
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:
Musicians Graydon James and Laura Spink will perform at the 'Till Things Are Brighter: The Songs of Johnny Cash’ fundraiser for the Greenwood Coalition on Nov. 2 at the Cameco Capitol Theatre in Port Hope.
Port Hope concert inspired by the songs of Johnny Cash
PORT HOPE -- Sit back and enjoy the songs of music legend Johnny Cash in an annual fundraiser.
Johnny Cash -- the musician, family man, recovered addict and spokesman for the downtrodden -- continues to inspire Till Things Are Brighter: The Songs of Johnny Cash, the third annual fundraiser for the Green Wood Coalition. The concert is set for Nov. 2 at the Cameco Capitol Theatre in Port Hope.
Read the rest of the Northumberland News article here.
Tickets for this year's fundraising concert, "Till Things Are Brighter: The Songs of Johnny Cash', go on sale Monday, October 7, in Port Hope. The legend of Johnny Cash - musician, family man, recovered addict, and spokesman for the downtrodden - continues to inspire this annual musical revue, set for Saturday, November 2 at the Cameco Capitol Theatre in Port Hope.
Two previous shows, featuring a stellar roster of roots artists performing Cash’s repertoire, have been a hit with the audience. This year's concert is expected to be a sell out, with this fantastic performer lineup, just released by Artistic Director/Host, David Newland:
Graydon James and Laura Spink
St. Mary’s Singers
Tickets ($30/$25 in advance) are available at Ganaraska Art & Framing, in downtown Port Hope.
"The Northumberland Charity Golf Tournament organized by the Port Hope Knights of Columbus saw 75 golfers brave plenty of rain to finish their 18 holes at Ashbrooke Golf Course on June 22. During the event a hockey jersey donated by Shane O'Brien of the Colorado Avalanche was raffled off. The tournament raised $7,200 to be split evenly between the Northumberland Hills Hospital Palliative Care Unit and the Green Wood Coalition. This was the second annual fundraising tournament hosted by the K of C. Last year's raised $7,000 for the window restoration project of Our Lady of Mercy Roman Catholic Church in Port Hope. Pictured are (from left) David Sheffield of Green Wood Coalition, Ross Fraser and Hugh Penney of the Port Hope Knights of Columbus, and Adrienne Barrie of the Northumberland Hills Hospital."