By Jenn Watt
For the second year, local affordable housing charity Places for People is holding its Sleeping in Cars fundraiser and awareness-raising event in three of the county’s villages. On March 27, participants in Haliburton, Wilberforce and Minden will gather around the bonfire together, maybe enjoying a Thermos of hot chocolate, sharing a story or two as the sun sets and the cool air of the Highlands in early spring gets colder.
Then, those same brave folk will say their goodnights and retreat to their cars and SUVs, arranging their sleeping mats, blankets and pillows as best they can to conserve body heat and make the hard surface of the vehicle’s interior comfortable enough to catch a few Z’s.
If they need to use the washroom, they can make the chilly jaunt to the municipal facilities, which for this event will be left open. The next morning, they’ll reunite over a warm breakfast and debrief about the experience.
Although it’s a fundraiser, Sleeping in Cars is more about spreading the word about homelessness and this year will be focused on youth homelessness.
In rural areas such as the Haliburton Highlands, the problem can be hidden from public view, as teenagers couch surf at their friends’ parents’ houses, bouncing from one place to another because the situation at home is no longer viable.
During the 2018 Registry Week, a homelessness survey conducted over a one-week period in Haliburton County and City of Kawartha Lakes, of the 60 individuals and 15 families who identified as being homeless, 16 were between the ages of 16 and 24 (10 of the 16 were in Haliburton County) and couch surfing was identified by more than half of the youth as being where they sleep most often.
(The survey is considered a snapshot of homelessness during a short period of time and is thought to under-represent the full scale of the problem.)
Reasons behind homelessness are complicated, but can be exacerbated when the young person is part of a marginalized group.
Covenant House Toronto says nationally, half of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, 30 per cent as Indigenous and 28 per cent as part of a racialized community. Mental health issues are another major obstacle for homeless young people with a national survey finding as many as 85 per cent “have experienced a mental health crisis and 42 per cent reported at least one suicide attempt.”
And as we heard earlier this month at the opening ceremony of the new Haliburton County Youth Wellness Hub, barriers to getting good care for mental health are many when you’re living far from specialists, with no public transportation and spotty access to an internet connection.
The Sleeping in Cars fundraiser next month seeks to open a dialogue about how we can help young people who don’t have a consistent, safe place to call home.
Thank you to the organizers of this event and those hardy participants, whose actions will bring needed attention to the reality of homelessness that too many face in our community.