Fundraiser asks residents to sleep in cars 

By Chad Ingram

Published Feb. 5 2019

A planned fundraiser will ask county residents to spend a night in their vehicles to raise awareness of and funds to combat homelessness in Haliburton County.

Homelessness exists in Haliburton County. It’s a type of homelessness that doesn’t resemble the typical version one might see on television or on the streets of downtown Toronto with people sleeping on pieces of cardboard along busy sidewalks.

Rather the county’s homeless population is part of what is often referred to as the “hidden homeless” people with no place of their own to go who stay with friends couch surf or live out of vehicles.

“First choice is friends’ houses and then when that wears out they probably go to vehicles of various sorts” says Fay Martin founder of non-profit housing organization Places for People. “Cars are one RVs trailers . . . so the car is kind of iconic.”

In 2016 Martin conducted research on rural hidden homelessness by interviewing 10 people living in the county in such conditions. One was a young woman in her 20s whose name was “Susie” for the purposes of the study who recalled her experience of finding herself sleeping in a car after she and her brother had left their mother’s home to escape an abusive stepfather.

Susie went first to a trailer on her mother’s property and then tried couch surfing for a while. However as Martin points out the Children’s Aid Society has restrictions about accommodations that do not include one’s own room etc.

From there Susie and her brother stayed with a friend in Barrie for a year before returning to the county.

“They put her in a motel a local motel” Martin says. “The issue was she had a dog.” That dog was a comfort to Susie and sleeping without the animal was non-negotiable. So her brother brought his car to the motel and he would sleep in the motel room while Susie slept in the car with her dog.

“And then that got de-funded” Martin says explaining that situation ended when social services agency A Place Called Home ceased some of the services it had provided in Haliburton County.

From the motel Susie went to live in an RV located on the property of parents of a friend of hers.

“It’s probably a fairly typical story because young people are most at risk for sleeping in a car” Martin says adding part of this is because of the accommodation restrictions that are placed on them. We know anecdotally there’s a huge youth problem here. We don’t have very many numbers.”

Pinning down exact numbers of people facing homelessness in the county is a challenge.

“In terms of numbers of individuals who are experiencing homelessness in Haliburton County our By Name List (a real time list of individuals and families we know to be experiencing homelessness) has the names of 13 households who are experiencing homelessness” Jocelyn Blazey homelessness system resource co-ordinator for the county and City of Kawartha Lakes told the paper in an email.

“This includes those who are couch surfing staying in temporary accommodation and a few who have been known to sleep outside. Since we created our By Name List (BNL) in 2016 however we have identified a total of 57 households who have at some point experienced homelessness in Haliburton County.

“As you can tell from the numbers there are a significant number of people who have been homeless in Haliburton County in the last two years. We have been doing some concerted work over the last year or so in building our Coordinated Entry Response in an effort to better identify and support individuals who are homeless.

“Of the 57 individuals identified in the last two years some of them have moved out of the area and others have been successful in finding housing. While the BNL is a list of names it does provide us with person-specific information that allows us to better support individuals as we recognize that everyone is different as is their experience of homelessness.”

The fundraiser Martin is organizing is scheduled to take place overnight on Friday March 1. The idea is to have three concurrent events – one in Haliburton Village one in Minden one in Wilberforce – where residents will gather partake in some programming that might include music and bonfires before hopping into their vehicles with their bedding for the night.

Martin is hoping to host the events at the public facilities with public buildings that participants will be able to use for their washrooms and as warming stations if required.

“The next day we’re going to do some kind of reflection circle of some sort” Martin says.