I've heard several Christmas songs in the last several days that have resonated with me and reminded me to be grateful for having a roof over my head.
"I'll Be Home for Christmas"
"Home for the Holidays"
I work for a non-profit assisting people who are at risk of eviction or homelessness. We just wrapped up a gauntlet of hearings involving tenants who could not afford their rents after getting laid off work, tenants with mental health problems that required medical intervention, and slumlords attempting to evict tenants who enforced their rights with City inspectors. The hearings have just wrapped up, but we likely won't get the decisions until late in the New Year. Although I think we did well, it just leaves my tenants hanging over the holidays wondering if they'll have a place to live next month. All I can do at this point is wait with them and feel badly about what a miserable holiday season this will be for them.
Right now our shelters are filled with people experiencing homelessness, including single people, families, women fleeing domestic violence, youth, and an overrepresentation of the Aboriginal population. Our local support service agency for LGBT youth has announced it will remain open over the holidays so that homeless LGBT youth who have been thrown out of their homes because of their sexual orientation will have a place to go, instead of becoming involved in the street life.
Housing is such a basic necessity in all our lives. It's more than just four walls. It defines who we are and how we feel about ourselves. It's the base from which we work to secure food, employment, and build on our goals and dreams. Anyone can be pushed into homelessness through a number of factors: loss of employment, mental illness, addictions, family violence or abuse, extreme poverty. Changes in the economy and in the housing market also contribute to homelessness.The supply of affordable housing has not kept pace with the needs of our most vulnerable populations. There has also been a been a steady decline in the amount of affordable rental housing in many cities.
In Canada, a recent survey showed that 30,000 people were homeless on any given night. This number does not include the 'hidden homeless' such as people who are couch-surfing or staying with friends or relatives because they have no place to live . A similar study in the U.S. showed 578,424 people were experiencing homelessness, meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing.
These are not insignificant numbers. They also don't take into consideration the number of tenants who are precariously housed, living in deplorable housing conditions with slum landlords without heat or maintenance, or families doubling or tripling up in small rooms or apartments because they can't afford anything more.
Homelessness is one of our greatest shames, something we don't want to talk about: Yet the only way we will understand it is by learning and educating ourselves about its root causes. When the world saw the picture of Alan Kurdi, the small boy whose dead body was found on a Turkish beach, our hearts went out to his family and the Syrian refugee crisis. That image became a major focus in our Canadian election campaign as each political party promised to outdo the other in bringing in the most refugees to our country in the shortest amount of time. Worthy goals, but can we not do the same for homelessness here at home? We see an image like Alan Kurdi from half way around the world, and our instinct was to reach out, to bring more refugees into our country and house and feed them, to give them a better life. Yet when we see a homeless person in our own community our first response is to look away because we don't know what to do. My hope is that people who became sensitized to the issue of homelessness through the refugee crisis will now open their minds further and consider other forms of homelessness, such as the plight of women leaving domestic violence, youth thrown out of their homes, and people who suffer from mental illness and wind up losing everything because of the lack of support services.
I'll be leaving tomorrow to go spend time at home with my family. I'm grateful to have one. After that, I get a break until after the New Year when the chaos will resume. In the meantime, whether you're spending time with friends, family, pets, or your own good company, I wish you all safe, adequate and affordable housing.