Some issues seem simply too daunting to tackle.
Take climate change, for example. We know our planet, along with its associated systems, is changing and not for the better. Each day, we’re faced with clear signs of that. The majority of us know we need to do something, anything, to reverse climate change, but then we question if acting on it as an individual or family will really make any difference. The result? Climate change, which we know we must address, edges closer to a fait accompli.
Eradicating homelessness is a similarly formidable challenge. A sustainable solution remains elusive despite the best efforts of a number of steering groups and organizations. There have been wins, no question, but a permanent fix remains an all too often frustrating work in progress.
The challenge facing affordable housing advocates lies in overcoming a widespread perception that homelessness is someone else’s problem. In other words, until one is homeless, there really isn’t a problem. And then there’s the desire of those who want to be part of any homelessness solution but remain unconvinced of how, in their own small way, they can really make a difference.
“I’ve been criticized for saying this, but what was good about Tent City last summer is that it forced conversations around homelessness to dinner tables,” says Jim Russell, chief executive officer of United Way Peterborough & District.
“It put homelessness in people’s faces. That forcing of the conversation was a really important exercise. We’re just evolving in our response to homelessness. There’s a role for faith groups, there’s a role for individuals, there’s certainly a role for municipal government, and there’s an absolute role for federal and provincial dollars.”
“I actually think Tent City was a gift because it forced us all to think about how we’re going to respond strategically moving forward.”
On Thursday, March 5th from 7 to 11 p.m. at Showplace Performance Centre, ‘Peterborough Performs: Musicians Against Homelessness’ will provide the opportunity for those who want to do something to do something concrete.
All proceeds from the event, which features 16 local music acts performing free of charge in both the Erica Cherney Theatre and the Nexicom Studio, will go directly to United Way-funded agencies that provide housing and shelter to the marginalized. There will also be a silent auction offering a number of unique items and experiences.
Close to $49 of each $50 ticket purchased will go directly to where it can do the most good immediately. Tickets are available in person at the Showplace box office (290 George St. N., Peterborough) or at the United Way of Peterborough and District (277 Stewart St., Peterborough), by phone at 705-742-7469, and online at www.showplace.org.
Among the local agencies providing affordable housing and shelter that will benefit from the fundraiser is the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) – Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge. According to its director of programs and services, Gord Langill, housing is “a big issue” for CMHA clients.
“We have more than 300 housing units that, over time, different people are coming into in a precarious or stressed housing situation,” explains Langill.
“The common denominator for our clients is mental health issues. Anybody who’s experiencing homelessness or is at the risk of homelessness, a focus on their housing is going to become front and centre.”
“Stable housing is the primary foundation for people being able to work on recovery long term,” adds Jennifer Bain, CMHA’s program manager of supportive housing.
“We partner with other organizations to provide support and sustainability. It’s one thing to be housed but it’s another thing to stay housed. Sustainability is important, which is where the support for the mental illness comes in. Homelessness cannot be resolved by one agency. It needs a community approach.”
According to a Peterborough Performs backgrounder on the local homelessness challenge and shelter needs, Peterborough has the highest percentage of rental households with unaffordable housing costs in the province.
In addition, it cost about $1.4 million to house people in Peterborough shelters in 2018 — a 7.6 per cent increase over the previous year. As well, in the Peterborough region, the average rent increase from 2017 to 2018 was 7.1 per cent, well above average income increases. According to Langill, the current homelessness count for Peterborough is in the range of 600.
But as sobering as those numbers are, progress is being made and it’s rooted in collaboration between organizations and committees working daily to, if not end homelessness, put a major dent in it.
“One group actually manages the list of names and the availability of affordable housing units when they come up,” explains Langill.
“Who is sitting at the top of that list? Who’s the next person who has been identified through our assessment tool as having a critical housing need or a need that matches the support available? Some are high support, some are low support to really no support. The group meets to assign those units and house those individuals to really try and end their homelessness.”
Homelessness, adds Langill, is “everybody’s problem.”
“Government and big business and people who have money need to step up at that level and change the regulations so, if a corporation is building housing, a certain percentage of that housing must be dedicated to affordable housing. Housing should be a right in this town, not a purchased privilege.”
For her part, Bain admits some frustration around the low vacancy rate but is encouraged by the commitment of various organizations, including her own, to come up with solutions.
“We’re trying to be innovative and think outside the box and come up with creative ways to house people, whether it’s in communal settings or whether it’s in in individual apartments based on their need. The creative brainwork that people are doing has helped resolve some of the issues.”
“I do feel encouraged. As long as we continue to be creative and match people with appropriate supports and housing, they’ll be able to sustain that and lighten the load on the shelter system.”
Speaking specifically to Peterborough Performs and its potential impact on the broader issue of homeless, Russell stresses the proceeds are going directly to programs such as those in progress at the CMHA and the YES Shelter for Youth and Families.
“What I worry about is people becoming anaesthetized to the issue,” he says, noting the real value of Peterborough Performs, not unlike Tent City, lies in its keeping homelessness on the radar of all and shows they can indeed be part of the solution. Folks get overwhelmed and ask ‘What can I do?’ People have to have a personal response to homelessness and Peterborough Performs provides that.”
“But the more important thing is putting a face to those who are living homeless. People are going to find, if they haven’t already, that some quirk of fate, some misstep, some mental health issue or illness or addiction, often leads to homelessness — and there, but for the grace of God, could go anyone.”
kawarthaNOW.com is proud to be the exclusive digital media sponsor of ‘Peterborough Performs: Musicians Against Homelessness’.