By Jenn Watt
Published August 9 2016
Haliburton County and City of Kawartha Lakes are examining an important and often overlooked issue in rural Ontario: homelessness.
During the week of Aug. 22 a count of homeless people in the two municipalities will be undertaken to gauge the scope of the issue with the intention of housing some 24 people by July 1 2018.
The initiative is part of the 20000 Homes campaign modelled after a successful project in the States which housed more than 105000.
Part of the count will be looking at those who are homeless in a less traditional sense – those who are couch surfing for example or who are living in facilities without prospects of housing when they leave.
The count will assess risk levels and determine which people need housing the most urgently.
This is crucially important because in rural areas those facing homelessness seldom have the “look” of someone without a place to sleep. We don’t regularly see people sleeping under bridges or in lobbies of 24-hour institutions. It’s uncommon to see someone walking down the street with all of his possessions on his back looking for assistance.
In the county part of the reason could be because those who need emergency shelter usually go to Lindsay. Others find temporary accommodations but they are far from being secure.
In fact 20 per cent of homeless people seeking financial assistance from the Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton Housing Help Centre last year came from this county.
The brilliant part of this most recent endeavour is its focus on getting housing done first.
As was noted by Hope Lee in her presentation to council back in March about the 20000 Homes campaign initiatives in the past have made housing provision contingent upon completing other hurdles such as addiction or mental health therapy.
This approach aptly called “Housing First” puts the emphasis where it belongs: on getting people into secure accommodations and then putting together the other pieces.
It makes sense – how can you address something as complex as mental health concerns when you’re stressed about finding somewhere to live? How could you focus on kicking an addiction if you were simultaneously worried about being kicked out of your brother-in-law’s guest bedroom?
The local goal of housing some 24 people in the next year and a half is relatively modest. However the work being done in assessing the larger picture of homelessness – not just the numbers but what it really looks like on the ground – will prove invaluable in digging into the issue in years to come.
(Those wishing to participate in the homelessness survey can find details on page 5. Participants receive a $5 Tim Hortons gift card. You can also email 20kHomesCKLH@gmail.com for details.)