The ‘United Housing for All’ are members of a group in Saugeen Shores looking at the problem of homelessness and affordable housing initiatives.
The group has grown in membership and, over the past year, has advocated for affordable housing initiatives, particularly in the Town of Saugeen Shores.
A recent presentation to Bruce County Council was a result of a presentation that the group made earlier to Saugeen Shores Town council.
The group has determined that there are five areas it would like to impact:
1) Governments – We realize that Governments (Municipal, Provincial, Federal) have a key role to play on the issue of housing and homelessness, and want to work collaboratively with government on solutions, on making the pathway easier, and providing some funding and services that are required.
2) Churches and Community groups – We believe that churches and community groups have a role to play in helping those in need. We are exploring with church and community leaders how to help with homelessness and the poor in our neighbourhoods. This goes beyond just providing shelter. We need to provide hope, and the support needed to get to a place of recovery.
3) Neighbours – We believe that we need to have our own neighbours become aware that there are people struggling in our communities, and people would like to live here, but can’t afford to. We are hoping that awareness leads to a call for action – either with their time or finances to support those who have less.
4) Those who have – There are many, particularly in Saugeen Shores, who have more than enough. We would like them to feel compelled to share some of their wealth to support the basic needs. If you really think about this, there are many of us who are well off, when we compare ourselves with those without.
5) Those who don’t have – This really is our primary focus – to help those in need. We need to help provide them with the basic essentials for living, and then to provide hope and the supports to make it on their own.
Over the past several months, the group has done a lot of research, watched/listened and read what was going on in other municipalities in the province, and talked with those who are involved with helping the homeless and those in need.
Among the group’s findings is that the issue of homelessness is largely a hidden issue in the Town of Saugeen Shores, and other municipalities within Bruce County.
“In Saugeen Shores, there are no obvious people on the streets of our town, as is often the case in the cities. Homelessness in our town shows up in various ways – a lot of the homeless are working, but do not have a permanent place to call home. These are often referred to as “couch surfers”, finding places with friends and relatives to stay for a period of time. There are also those who simply do not have a place to stay, and find other forms of shelter. There are people staying in hotels, or even in tents.”
In early November last year (2022), the Saugeen Shores Police Service issued a warning to hunters to be aware of homeless individuals residing in wooded areas in town. In a meeting with Saugeen Shores Police Chief Kevin Zettel, it was confirmed that this is an issue in Saugeen Shores. The police have, in fact, encountered people who are homeless in the municipality. Homeless people have been found in ATM kiosks, near town trails, and in public washrooms.
The group says that it is encouraging to see that the emphasis of the police is on finding support for the homeless and not enforcement to displace them. There is a benevolent fund set up to help with temporary housing in local hotels, and then to get people set up with the appropriate agencies to get further support.
However, there are some services that are lacking and in need of further attention. Warming centres are needed, particularly heading into winter. Mental health is a major issue, and the supports in this area are limited locally and not nearly adequate enough overall. The issue of homelessness is not considered a crisis at this point. This is somewhat encouraging, as it is considered a crisis in many other municipalities in the province.
The ‘Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness’ is a national group that advocates for resolving the issue of homelessness in Canada. On February 14, 2022, it hosted a webinar on Homelessness Prevention and polling results conducted by Nanos Research.
Some key points from the webinar were:
- The pandemic and cost-of-living crisis have precipitated a new wave of homelessness in Canada.
- There is record food bank usage and an estimated 34% increase in homelessness and core housing needs from 2020 to 2023.
- 85% of people experiencing homelessness are only homeless due to poverty and a lack of affordable housing
- Homelessness in Canada costs over $7 billion/year, affects at least 235,00 different people per hear and cuts life expectancy in half
- 99% of Canadians know that housing/homelessness is a problem and 1 in 4 Canadians are worried about paying housing costs in the next month. This applies to people of all age groups.
According to the group, it has learned a lot based on reading, listening and watching what others have to say but most importantly on personal interactions with those who are experiencing homelessness or struggling to survive. “We have watched people come in to the Port Elgin Food Bank run by the Salvation Army and have seen the needs of people who need food, and often clothing and even shelter. There have been requests for tents in the past.”
In Owen Sound, through volunteering at Safe ‘n’ Sound, a greater appreciation was learned of those who struggle on the streets of Owen Sound. It is clear that the road to recovery is a long one for some, and besides the need for food and shelter, some require some basics such as identification cards and health cards to access some of the required needs. Each person has a story, and the stories are different for each. A lot have issues with addictions and this is exacerbating the problem.
Based on the group’s learning so far, it would like to do the following:
- Network and Collaborate with government, churches, community groups, service providers, police and builders on the issue of homelessness, how to work together and help with supporting those who are homeless or struggling to live a life with the basic needs met. Welcome input from each of the municipal leaders to provide contact information.
- Hold a forum on Homelessness/Poverty later in the year, bringing together representatives from the various groups that can help with the support of those in need. The county is doing this to some extent with the preparation of an updated housing plan.
- Work together with the county and other groups and do what government may not be able to do. This forum would be somewhat of a brainstorming session, finding out what each do best, what the needs are, finding common ground and identify actions to take. Host speakers on the subject.
- Identify a project in the Town of Saugeen Shores to work on through a work in progress and collaborate with various groups.
The group would also like to see other municipalities work on a project as well to get their communities involved and work through collaboration with others.