Letter: Homelessness, prevention is the best medicine

“Please remember, when you see a man sleeping on the doorstep of a downtown business, or when you do your best not to make eye contact with the girl begging for money. ‘money on the median on your weekly trip to Walmart, or you discover a homeless encampment behind the mall, it’s people like you’

For the editor:

I understand that many readers will take what I say today, the wrong way. We are all human and we all have our own opinions about life on our little green planet and how to improve it. I totally agree with people who disagree with me, in fact, I invite civil and thoughtful debate.

Imagine being a single man trying to survive on minimum wage in Ontario today. Even if he lives in an all-inclusive room, his income will barely cover his rent, food and basic needs. Any aspirations he has to better his life will slowly evaporate into thin air as he tunes in.

Maybe he dreamed of having a family, a car, a house, maybe just a pet, or a two-day camping trip on a local lake. Life’s goals, even the smallest ones, begin to seem unattainable. He’s discouraged, his self-esteem is low to zero, and to top it all off, he’s about to lose his job and his room because he caught a bug and was off work for a week. Without sick leave, he now has a full week’s pay and has no idea how he will pay his rent this month.

He is already at high risk of losing his room because he is two months behind on his rent. 2 months ago, his old wreck car broke down and since it’s his only way to get to work on time, he had to use his rent money to fix it. Our imaginary single man ends up on the streets, homeless and now unemployed because, as his boss said, “you can’t come in here looking and smelling like a bum.”

Imagine a young single Aboriginal woman fresh out of university. She was top of her class all through college and rightly hopes she did what she had to do to secure a reasonably comfortable career and life, she’s on her way and she’s happy. .

One night shortly after graduation she is partying with some friends, something is slipped in her drink and she is left unconscious, raped and beaten in a ditch just down the street from where the party took place. She could never “get away with it” as everyone told her. She starts drinking and using drugs, anything to dull the emotional and psychological pain that is a constant now.

She has no income and her parents won’t allow her to come home because they raised her “to be independent and strong”. She can’t bring herself to tell her story, yet again, to another therapist because, even though it’s now 2020, she still feels like what happened is her fault. The bright future of our imaginary young lady quickly darkens and fades beyond her reach. She can barely pull herself off her latest friend’s couch to run a brush through her hair. She’s now homeless, addicted, and making money off drugs from the very thing that stole her dreams, sex.

Imagine a young family, high school graduates, with two young children, both working for little more than minimum wage.

By the time they pay the rent for their two-bedroom attic apartment, daycare, car insurance, clothes (the essentials), they run a deficit every month. They know they should have tenant insurance; however, it is a luxury they simply cannot afford. The unthinkable happens and they find themselves on the street because of a fire in another apartment in their building.

The rent they had been paying for 3 years was barely doable, but now there is no more room to rent that they can afford. They don’t qualify for public housing because they earn too much and landlords, who typically don’t speak to potential tenants in person (online applications only) consider applications from tenants who have good credit, proof of employment (with sufficient income to support a minimum of $1,800 per month for rent, plus utilities), and excellent rental references.

Needless to say, only “the cream of the crop” will be allowed a visit.

Now we have a homeless family. Chances are they won’t have a family member who can accommodate a whole family. The agency that provides emergency housing pressures them to find a place to rent, and they live in a tiny motel room with two young children, a microwave and a bar fridge.

The children are traumatized from being pulled from their beds in the middle of the night when the fire happened and do not understand where their cat has gone or why their beloved dog cannot stay with them. They have a lot of trouble sleeping, just like their parents. Getting to work is getting harder and harder.

Seeking a brief reprieve from the situation, they decide to spend a weekend in the countryside with a family member. Now they are breaking the rules of their temporary accommodation and being told to leave. They are now truly homeless, living in their car, desperate, unhappy and discouraged, fearful that child services will apprehend their children; a very real possibility.

These are just three of the scenarios that make people homeless, three scenarios that could have been avoided, hence my assertion that prevention is the best medicine.

All of these tragedies could have been avoided if services had been in place to help them where they were.

Our single man could have thrived on a grant that supplemented his salary to an income that allowed him to breathe, or hope if you will.

Our young college graduate could have pulled herself out of the depths of depression and PTSD if she had received a decent salary, temporary housing and quality therapy; quite simply, the time to recover.

And finally, our young family wouldn’t have ended up living in their car, if the income level to qualify for government housing was such that a working poor family could qualify.

I’ve only scratched the surface in terms of why people become homeless, there are countless ways life can pull the rug out from under each of us. We need to put in place programs and services that will prevent people from being lost and forgotten, blamed, ridiculed and stigmatized for becoming homeless.

Remember, when you see a man sleeping on the doorstep of a downtown business, or when you do your best not to watch the girl begging for money on the median during your weekly trip to Walmart, or you discover a homeless encampment behind the mall, these are people just like you. They had hopes and dreams that almost certainly didn’t involve shooting down an alley.

No one chooses this life. If we, as a society, insisted that our governments practice prevention, as opposed to damage control, which has been proven time and time again does not work, we would see our homeless numbers greatly reduced.

rita hamilton

North Bay