Baby, it’s cold outside.
As playful as Dean Martin’s lyrics might sound, the reality is that as we move towards winter, it is cold and dark outside. The beach toys have been packed away and many of us are settling into that time of year when we turn our focus inside to enjoy the warmth of house and hearth.
Unless, of course, you don’t have a place to call home.
The government’s recent announcement of a national housing strategy has raised the idea that adequate housing is a basic human right. Considering the harsh realities of winter weather in Canada – we do, after all, live in a land of ice and snow – one would assume that everyone has access to some form of shelter when both light and temperatures drop.
Not so. Homelessness often suffers from being both invisible and a NIMBY problem. Invisible, because we don’t see the reality behind that closed front or back door. And NIMBY because, well, it’s not really an issue here, right? Homelessness is often regarded as a big city issue, not something that happens in our back yard.
Yes, large urban centres draw more than their share of the dislocated, the transient, and the disenfranchised. When visiting Vancouver last summer, I turned a corner in a popular tourist area and discovered a tiny park transformed by individuals sleeping amongst the bags and shopping carts that held their limited personal possessions. It was both startling and frightening. It would also be easy to blame the city’s housing market or the individuals themselves. It wasn’t my problem.
So it may be hard to recognize that homelessness or the risk of homelessness is a major concern in Cumberland County. But the numbers tell a different story. More than 35,000 children in Nova Scotia are currently living in situations where one unexpected expense or financial difficult could leave the family without accommodations to call their own. If you have no claim to where you are sleeping – if you are staying with relatives or couch-surfing, you would be considered homeless. It’s a tough reality that is happening across the country, and especially right here at home.
As the Community Support Coordinator based at the Y, Alison Lair is working towards setting up a Homelessness Prevention and Outreach Program for Cumberland County. Developed to assist local individuals and families to secure suitable and sustainable housing, the program also works to direct those at risk towards the support systems that will help to reduce or eliminate the risk of homelessness. It can be hard to find a way out of a situation with the immediate worry of where to sleep and what to eat. And this is a way of life for more than we know.
The idea of a National Housing Strategy is a start, especially if it starts conversations about what housing is, should be and must be for everyone. It’s a big idea that must translate into local reality as we work to make our communities accessible and live-able for everyone. We’re all in this together.
Alison Lair can be contacted through the Cumberland YMCA.
Jan Matthews writes her column for the Cumberland YMCA.