“˜Shantytown”™ event raises awareness of local poverty, homelessness

“Shantytown” gives area residents a small  taste of what homeless people go through on a daily basis.

The annual Shantytown event is presented by The Door Youth Centre in downtown Fergus to draw attention to the issues of homelessness and poverty in the local and rural community.

Centre Wellington director Doug Calder hopes the annual event, held this year from Sept. 18 to 19, gives participants ideas or inspires them to find creative ways to change the nature of local homelessness.

Calder noted that “when a large factory closed down a few years ago, the food bank had a 136 per cent increase in usage. From that we know that homelessness and the challenges of poverty are on the increase.”

Calder explained, “Homelessness can be not having a house, but it can also be couch surfing or broken relationships, jumping from place to place without really having a place to call home.”

He noted, “People in true poverty or homeless situations generally don’t get out of it by hanging around other homeless people,” but in mixed groups, they can find supports in the community to escape poverty.

“If people who have spare time and cash take people out for a bite to eat … and invest time in a relationship with them … it tends to raise the ability of those people to escape poverty and homelessness.”

Calder said Centre Wellington is soon going to reach 40,000 residents and he wondered if the area has “the social network … to reach the at-risk youth” and if there are “enough adults around to … give them the tools to escape the situations they are in.”

He noted, “Sometimes a lot of ‘at risk’ events are happening right after school, when they used to happen late at night.”

Seirra Kraehling said The Door offers the chance to get to know new people and discover their stories and what they are going through.

“I’ve gone through a lot of personal stuff and Rowan (Greig) has gone through the same thing,” said Kraehling.

Greig added the centre offers a lot of personal support.

“If you have gone through stuff … you can pull a volunteer off to the side and you can talk to them about anything and they won’t judge you,” she said. “They even got us to start going to church and stuff.”

Both noted they went on numerous trips over the summer.