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Homelessness is a reality in Cumberland County

Jeff MacNeil, manager of development at the Cumberland YMCA, Colleen Dowe from the SOAR Community Health Board and Alison Lair of the Homelessness Prevention and Outreach Program at the Cumberland YMCA look over homeless stats for Cumberland County.
Jeff MacNeil, manager of development at the Cumberland YMCA, Colleen Dowe from the SOAR Community Health Board and Alison Lair of the Homelessness Prevention and Outreach Program at the Cumberland YMCA look over homeless stats for Cumberland County. - Submitted

An 18 year-old female was kicked out of her parents’ home when they found out she was pregnant.  

She has been couch surfing with friends for several months and has often found herself the victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault at the hands of her benefactors. She has occasionally been forced to sleep in a tent due to her precarious living situation. With the impending arrival of her baby and no access to income assistance, she has no money and no permanent home. She is concerned her baby may be taken from her.

According to the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) manual, youth between the ages 16 and 18 years are considered the legal responsibility of their parents or guardians. In some cases, Child Protection services may be called in to investigate and if they find that the youth is unable to return and remain in the parental home, the youth could then apply for Income Assistance.

This is often difficult as families don’t like to admit they have unresolvable problems. If successful, the youth also has the difficult task of finding a landlord that is willing to rent to them and finding something they can afford. The average monthly shelter costs in Cumberland County for renters are $688.00 and Income Assistance only provides up to $535 per month for shelter allowance.  

In Cumberland County we are very lucky to have several subsidized housing units. Subsidized housing rates are based on 30 per cent of the renter’s income or if they are on Income Assistance, the rent is equal to the shelter allowance.

There is still a lengthy wait list especially in the Amherst area, however it has been greatly reduced because of an initiative by Cobequid Housing to work with some local landlords and expand the subsidized rental program. Because the rent is based on income, it can fluctuate monthly.

For many, income varies month to month because hours are scheduled weekly. For example someone working at a fast food restaurant may work 10 hours one week and 25 the next. The tenants are responsible for providing their pay stubs to Cobequid Housing in order to have their rent adjusted and if income is decreased without notice, rent will remain at the higher rate.

A 65-year-old female with a brain injury had to leave her subsidized housing unit because she neglected to provide up-to-date pay stubs showing a decrease in her income.

Although Cobequid Housing worked with her and offered some assistance, it all became too much. She got so far behind that she felt leaving was her best option. She ended up sleeping in her car and relying on local recreation centres for showers and the Bridge Adult Service Centre for her laundry.

After a lengthy search she was able to find another apartment she could afford, but unfortunately she was unable to come up with the security deposit. 

Although not as visible as in many other cities and towns, homelessness is a reality in Cumberland. For every story like the ones above, there are dozens of stories about people at risk of being homeless or living in unsafe or inadequate housing.

If you or someone you know is in need of support there are several agencies that can help and the best way to reach them is by calling 211 or text 21167. 

Homelessness and poverty affect the health of our entire community and the Cumberland County Community Health Boards have made economic wellbeing a priority. 

All three of our community health boards are currently looking for new members.

Bill Schurman and Linda Cloney, SOAR Co-chairs

Terri Ashley and Trudy Weir, SPAR Co-chairs

Joyce Gray, Pugwash and Area Chair

For more information about the boards or to learn how you can become a member please contact Colleen Dowe at 902-397-0376 or Colleen.dowe@nshealth.ca.

Article by Colleen Dowe and Alison Lair of the Homelessness Prevention and Outreach Program at the Cumberland YMCA.

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