As the days and nights get shorter and colder our thoughts turn to those who struggle with permanent, safe housing.
Here are the four categories of homelessness as outlined by the Canadian Definition of Homelessness and there are residents of St. Albert who fall into each category.
First is unsheltered – absolutely homeless and living on the streets and in places not intended for human habitation (such as cars or other vehicles).
Next is emergency sheltered: those staying in overnight shelters who are homeless or those impacted by family violence.
The third category is provisionally accommodated: those whose accommodation is temporary or lacks security of tenure. Couch surfing is an example of provisionally accommodated.
The last category is those who are at risk of homelessness. These are the folks who are currently housed but their economic/housing situation is precarious or does not meet public health and safety standards. This includes those who are suffering from persistent mental health and addictions issues whose behaviours are deemed inappropriate.
Appropriate housing – safe, affordable and barrier free – is at the top of our wish list for our clients who are facing housing insecurities. Currently there are no shelters in St. Albert and the question arises – is a shelter what is needed or do we need to be looking at a different model?
Our unsheltered homeless clients have stated that they prefer to have help to get into a home, which is more permanent and dignified solution. Having said that, housing supports need to be in place. Moving into an apartment and facing the responsibilities of paying the rent, keeping the apartment clean, and taking care of the bills can be daunting for someone who has been on the streets for a long time. Having a support staff who can walk beside the client will make the transition easier.
When a family is paying more than 50 per cent of their income on rent each month they may be at risk of becoming homeless should an unexpected expense come up. In the month of September 2017 of the 238 families who sought assistance through the St. Albert Food Bank, 58 per cent of those families were paying 50 per cent or more of their income on rent.
Homelessness is not confined to adults/families; we are seeing a significant number of youth who are facing the very alarming prospect of being homeless. The staff at the Collective is reporting that youth as young as 16 are facing homelessness and since there are currently no facilities in St. Albert to house them, they may have to leave their community to go to Edmonton.
Homelessness takes a steep toll on the well-being of individuals and families so what can we, as a community do? We can start the conversations that will lead to solutions.
The St. Albert Homelessness Prevention Coalition, which is comprised of a number of agencies and community members, hosted the first Community Conversation on homelessness on Oct. 26th.
If you are interested in continuing that conversation, please contact Suzan at the St. Albert Community Village and Food Bank at firstname.lastname@example.org
Suzan Krecsy is the director of the St. Albert Food Bank.