Unexpected events can lead to homelessness
By Sue Tiffin
Published Feb. 12, 2019
This article is the second in a series on homelessness in Haliburton County leading up to an awareness event to be held throughout the county on March 1.
Fay Martin gets phone calls each month from people experiencing homelessness in Haliburton County.
But how do people find themselves in such a position?
Though not necessarily something people talk about around the water cooler, in a society where more and more people are living paycheque to paycheque and carrying a heavy debt load, homelessness can easily occur, according to Martin, founder of non-profit housing organization Places for People.
“Particularly in a place like Haliburton County where paycheques aren’t guaranteed, or how much is on it isn’t guaranteed, that means that a really very large proportion of our population are in theory at risk of homelessness,” she said. “We might not know that, because if they lose their house they move in with someone else – they move in with their parents, their kids, to somebody’s cottage that they’re not using, somebody’s house if they’ve gone south. They find some place to slide, sort of.”
A more generous definition of homelessness was defined with a revision in 2017 by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, a non-profit, non-partisan research institute. It defines homelessness as falling into four categories: unsheltered (absolutely homeless, sleeping in cars or on streets), emergency sheltered (staying in overnight shelters, or shelters for people experiencing family violence), provisionally accommodated (people living in temporary accommodation, such as couchsurfing or housesurfing) and risk of homelessness (people who are not homeless, but whose housing situation is precarious or unsafe).
“Why have this more generous definition?” asked Martin. “A home is more than a roof over your head. A home is a place where you can be who you are and live. Like live your life. If it’s freezing cold or you feel unsafe, it isn’t a home. It’s a roof overhead but it isn’t a home. You cannot thrive.”
Under this definition, Martin said any unexpected life event might find anyone at risk of homelessness of some sort.
“What happens if somebody gets sick?” she said. “Around here we know that if somebody has a serious accident, there’s a GoFundMe page that gets set up, a bank account set up, because there’s a recognition that most people don’t have the resources to bridge that kind of traumatic situation. So they’re at risk of homelessness. Very active risk of homelessness. Maybe because of money, but maybe also because the house they have is no longer appropriate for them to live in, like if someone has to [use] a wheelchair.”
“If you start going to the people you know, how many of them could in fact be tipped into homelessness with this more generous definition?” she asked.
News reports after the recent partial government shutdown in the United States showed that some federal workers faced the potential of losing their house because of missed payments.
“So that’s one way that people get into homelessness, that their income gets interrupted for whatever reason,” said Martin. “It could be illness, could be the business goes out of business, it could be just their hours go down, could be that they’ve lost their car so they can’t get to work because the transportation failed, any of those could within, really a month, could tip you into losing that roof over your head.”
She lists scenarios she has heard of people in the county experiencing through her own social networks, or from those monthly phone calls seeking guidance. In some cases, people have come for a job in the area but haven’t been able to find a place to live. For some, their rent payments can be made but the high cost of utilities leaves them in a precarious housing situation. Some have experienced a medical condition, and their house no longer works for them due to a disability or fragile health because the bathroom and bedroom or laundry room aren’t all on the main floor requiring no use of stairs.
Others have had their marriage end, and have needed to leave their home, while some have become widowed and can’t manage their house on their own. They aren’t able to afford domestic help, and even those who are financially secure can’t necessarily find it here.
When people in Haliburton County experience homelessness, or are on the brink of it, what resources can they access?
“Where do you go?” asked Martin. “It’s not [always that] you don’t have the money, it’s there’s no place to go to. And that is legitimately homelessness. That’s one of the legitimate forms of homelessness, is insecurity. Where you can’t count on having that roof. You can’t relax and say, yes, I can get on with other things in my life, because this one’s in place.”
Those who find themselves suddenly without stable housing who need or want to stay in the area because their job or family are here often make do with temporary solutions, such as staying in motels.
“We don’t have a shelter,” said Martin. “If you want a shelter you have to go to Lindsay. We have a significant shortage of rental housing. Much of the rental housing we have is either under the radar, so in order to find it you need to have those social connections. Much of it is, the rent might be OK but the utilities will kill you. So you’re in a tough spot. No question about that. No question about that.”
The sleeping in cars event takes place overnight on Friday, March 1 to raise awareness of the homelessness issue. Visit www.placesforpeople.ca for more information.