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While not ultra-visible, homelessness is an issue in Dufferin

August 27, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Written By ALYSSA PARKHILL & PAULA BROWN

Tent cities lined under highway bridges, panhandlers sitting on curbs, and bodies curled in sleeping bags along city streets and storefronts – these are all symbols of urban homelessness. 

Within the borders of Dufferin County and Caledon, surrounded by rural landscape, the visible signs of homelessness are often hidden. 

Despite being ‘hidden’ from the general eye of the public, experts all agree that this is a growing problem in the region. 

“Homelessness in Caledon can tend to be hidden,” said Region of Peel’s Housing Client Services Manager, Leslie Moreau. “People moving from place to place; unstable housing. There are certain people that live in the rough in the Caledon area.”

“The term hidden refers to people who are couch surfing, squatting, sleeping rough out of sight, staying with friends etc. The people who do not access service,” said Anna McGregor, Director of Community Services at the County of Dufferin. “We are seeing people coming onto the BNL who have been, or continue to be homeless and who haven’t accessed services before,” 

The By Name List, or BNL was implemented into Dufferin County in May of 2019, a tool used to identify vulnerable community members experiencing homelessness and connect them to a number of services. The list also offers demographics found in the homeless community of Dufferin County. 

“Since the start of the BNL there have been 127 homeless people who have connected with the programs, of which 56 percent were male, 43 percent female and 2 percent transgender,” said McGregor. “Some of these individuals have been housed, while others have relocated to other areas or remain homeless.” 

Updated numbers from July 31 of this year show there are 16 members on the BNL, with 69 percent male, and 31 percent female. BNL also notes an age split for homelessness, with 31 percent considered to be youth (24 years of age and under), 63 percent adult (25 to 59) and 6 percent senior (60+). 

“The percentage of seniors experiencing homelessness has consistently been much lower than youth and adults,” said McGregor. 

Now into its 20th year, Choices Youth Shelter provides a variety of services to homeless youth in the Orangeville and surrounding areas. With a facility located on Townline, the organization assists individuals between the ages of 16 and 24, providing an alternative to living on the street and, according to the organization’s website, helps its residents “transition to a more productive and brighter future”. 

“While our numbers here at the shelter are low currently, because we’ve had to do that (due to the ongoing pandemic), we know that there is youth homelessness within Dufferin County,” said Althea Casamento, director of Choices Youth Shelter. She says there is an undetermined number of homeless youth in Dufferin County currently. 

Region of Peel has found through surveys that 34 percent of individuals struggling with homelessness are female, and 23 percent considered youth. Around 13 percent are living rough together as a family. Breaking down the statistics further, 9 percent of the homeless community are Indigenous, 8 percent identified LGBTQ+, 3 percent are refugee claimants, 2 percent were involved in the military and 1 percent are transgender. 

“In March, just before COVID hit, we were showing just about 850 to 900 attending our emergency shelters. So, people that we knew about that were in our shelters somewhere in Peel Region,” said Moreau. “Today we are only seeing 578 people. Since COVID struck, we’ve housed 434 individuals and families.”

Whether it be family issues or financial instability, one key factor that impacts anyone struggling to find a home, especially in Peel region, is the rising costs of housing, which various people working within the social service industry have told us are unaffordable for a lot of people. Though Peel Region has increased its affordable housing inventory, there are still many left to struggle due to the high costs. 

“Searching for adequate housing is a full-time job. There are frustrations surrounding the cost of housing and housing stocks,” said Coral McMahan, Care Coordinator at Caledon Community Services. “Both of those make affordable, safe housing, difficult to acquire.”

She added, “During fiscal year [in Caledon] we have seven people categorized as being (homeless), living on the street, two in a shelter, one in an emergency shelter and 28 people staying with family and friends.”

Dufferin County released an updated version of their 10-year housing and homelessness plan in September 2019. The document showed the highest percentage of low-income households existed in the rural parts of the county; highest areas included Melancthon, Grand Valley, Mulmur and Shelburne. 

According to Dufferin County the number of households that applied to be on the waitlist for community housing was 286 in 2018, with the current waitlist for housing between 4 and 8 years. 

“This is a national, provincial and Dufferin problem. It is a challenge for people who are housed and doubly so for those who are homeless,” said McGregor. “There is a lack of affordable housing. Rising house prices are pricing people out of the private market. There is not enough supply for affordable rental to fill the gap.” 

Tent cities have become a large symbol of the housing affordability crisis that currently exists. Commonly found in larger urban areas, Orangeville Police Services (OPS) Sgt. Mary Lou Archer said that OPS has seen tents occasionally in the area. 

OPS also says that they occasionally receive calls involving homeless people, but it is not tracked through their Records Management System. 

“Often calls in relation to a homeless person will come in as a suspicious person, or possibly an ambulance assist,” said Sgt. Archer. 

Caledon Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) recognize homelessness within the Caledon community, and have been specifically trained to help those in unsafe situations and to make referrals to agencies such as Caledon Community Services, or Region of Peel, to offer help.

“Since early 2016, Caledon OPP and Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) have been working closely to create a crisis support team in Caledon to help our community to address the complex issues faced by individuals going through crisis,” said Iryna Nebogatova, Community Safety Officer and Media Relations. “The 24/7 Crisis Support Team is made up of a police officer who is trained in mental health, crisis support and a social worker.”

She added, “This service is available for people who are 16 years and older experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis, having difficulties coping and also provides support and referrals. The team also assists with short-term housing needs for individuals in need.”

Mental health and addictions are known issues that can directly lead into homelessness. CMHA Peel Dufferin shows numbers of 55 percent of individuals who cope with homelessness experience mental health issues, and 31 percent struggle with addiction. 

“People who are homeless are more likely to have poor mental health in contrast to the general population. There is also the ‘chicken and the egg’ debate over whether one caused the other and vice versa,” said Courtney McGlashen, Manager of Outreach and Housing Support Programs at CMHA Peel Dufferin. 

Many resources are available for individuals, families, youth and anyone struggling with homelessness in the area. Caledon Community Services provides services through The Exchange, and even provides transportation. CCS works closely with the Peel Outreach team on a regular basis in order to provide a broader and accessible list of resources.  

Dufferin County offers services that range from shelter to food. Specific services provided include Family Transition Place, Choices Youth Shelter, Highlands Youth for Christ, Lighthouse, Salvation Army, County’s Community Service Department, and food banks. 



         

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