The elephant in the County

By Vivian Collings

I’ve started this editorial a few times, each with a different subject, a different headline.
My first topics weren’t bad ideas, I’m just having a hard time ignoring the elephant in the room.
I’m sitting in my heated house, under a warm blanket, with a full belly, freshly-washed laundry (I won’t say it’s folded, because that would be a lie), and a cup of tea.
The most uncomfortable part of my day was sitting in my cold car for a few minutes before it had completely warmed up.
I wouldn’t even know that the temperature was below -10 degrees Celsius and even colder with the wind chill if I didn’t have to go out today.
There’s a huge elephant in this room.
I can’t stop thinking about the numbers in Emily Stonehouse’s article about “energy poverty.”
Nearly a fifth of the people living in Haliburton County didn’t have the same type of day that I had. Likely even more.
Twenty five per cent of our children are living in poverty.
That means that in a class of 28 kids, seven are living in poverty. Seven may not have a warm home to go to after school. Seven aren’t getting three meals each day. Seven may not have proper winter clothes for our freezing winters. In one class. How many classrooms does each of our five public schools have?
According to SIRCH Community Services, 63 per cent of our residents are over the age of 50.
With a total population in the county of approximately 20,000, that means that over 2,500 people over the age of 50 are living in poverty.
How many seniors aren’t able to eat enough and don’t have fuel to properly heat their homes without creating a fire hazard?
And then, what about young adults who can’t provide enough for themselves because the “living wage” in the county is nearly $20 an hour. To be able to put food on the table, one needs to make at least $20 an hour if they live here. Minimum wage is $15.50.
I can’t help but feel that too many in our community have been ignoring the elephant for too long.
I know we have many truly incredible organizations and individuals working tirelessly to help, but this should be top of mind for us all.
Just because you may be lucky enough to not see poverty doesn’t mean it isn’t there. We can’t keep ignoring the numbers.
Haliburton County doesn’t have a homeless shelter. According to Statistics Canada, those in the county in need of affordable housing may wait as long as seven years. The wait list for affordable housing is increasing by 25 per cent each year. We don’t have more homes, so what do these families and individuals do in the meantime?
If someone in our community is in desperate need of shelter, they are taken to the nearest city that has a shelter. This feels like we are putting these people “out of sight and out of mind,” and it’s really upsetting.
Can you imagine being forced to leave your community because it doesn’t have the necessary resources to provide for your basic human needs to stay alive?
Over the next few weeks, the Echo and Times staff will be highlighting some of the organizations that are dedicated to alleviating some of the awfulness of poverty and what we can do to better support them as we head into winter.
This is the whole county’s elephant, and it needs to be under a spotlight.