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Open Mind

by Janet Fowler

Home - at last!

The long cold winter, with it’s dark evening sky, seems endless … you have finally come to the end of a busy day. You open the door. Home at last! 

This scene will be repeated for many, but not for all. We have people, even in our own community, who do not have a warm home to return to at the end of the day. They are members of what we call, “the homeless”. 

Really? Some of us don’t have a home to go to? Then where do they go at the end of the day?

We gained some insight into this when a three-day “point in time” count was done last April, which found 325 people in Guelph-Wellington who were “homeless.”

Among these, 14 per cent had no shelter to go to and might sleep in a public place or a car; 23% had emergency shelter, which included shelters for those impacted by family violence; 56% were “temporarily sheltered”, so a motel, hospital, or the hope of finding a place to sleep at a friend’s for the night (couch surfing); and 9% were at undisclosed locations. 

Among these 325 were 20 families with 34 dependent children, 93 youth aged 16 to 24, and 195 adults over age 25.

Other findings confirmed what previous studies into homelessness had shown: health issues are significant. 

Most prevalent were addictions (61%) and mental health issues (64%), with half of all respondents having both. Thirty one per cent had a physical disability, a risk factor also reported in Housing Issues for People with Disabilities in Canada (March 2017), and 38% had a chronic or acute medical condition. 

Would they like to have a home to go to? Of course! But their challenges to finding housing are substantial. Rents are too high; income too low; and housing is not available. It is clear that more housing units are required. With the rental vacancy in this area so very low, landlords are able to choose less vulnerable tenants. More assistance is needed so people can afford to rent existing apartments, and more supportive services are needed. 

In the process of advocating for more affordable housing, often we find an attitude of NIMBYism…(not in my backyard); the stigma of mental illness; and zoning bylaws that discriminate against supportive housing.

Scott Simmie, a reporter and author who experienced mental health problems and has become an advocate for mental health, said “some struggle with poverty so grinding and housing so appalling, it would challenge the sanity of even the strongest among us.”

Housing First is a concept in current discussions. It is not a new idea but it is a good one. First, provide stable, safe housing. Then issues in a person’s life can be addressed.  This approach has shown positive impacts on physical and mental health, reduced interventions with the law, and less use of hospital resources.

Governments at all levels need to make this a priority. We can share our views with our elected officials.

At the end of the day, we all need a place to go home to.

For more information on Housing First, see endhomelessnessnow.org.

This article was written by Janet Fowler, retired public health nurse and a member of the Open Mind Committee and the Wellington-Guelph Housing Committee. The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. Contact aheeley@cmhaww.ca. For local mental health resources/information, visit www.mdsgg.ca or call 1-844-HERE247.

 

 

Vol 52 Issue 09

 
 

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