Posted on November 10, 2015 - at 11 : 45 a.m
Invisible in plain sight: Cornwall’s homeless
Wearing old clothes and with loneliness in their eyes, they make their way down Cornwall’s busy intersections, a shell of what they once were.
Although in plain sight, they seem invisible, blending in with the everyday scenery. The city’s homeless compromise a community. But what exactly is homelessness? According to Charity Intelligence, an organisation that provides Canadian donors with information regarding charities, “there are two distinct groups of homeless people: those who are temporarily homeless, the transitional homeless, and those who are chronically homeless, living on the streets repeatedly and for more than one year.”
Even if the homeless community of Cornwall is considerably smaller than neighbouring cities, its “members seem to be invisible. An actual homeless shelter doesn’t exist in Cornwall, although some did exist in the past.
Alex de Witt, executive director of the Social Development Council of Cornwall and Area, explains that Cornwall’s homeless community consists of mostly hidden homeless. “We have relatively few people living on the streets in Cornwall, this population is often very transient and will often move onto other communities that have shelters where they are more likely to have shelter for the night,” he highlighted. “However, we do have a lot of people who are considered to be the hidden homeless. Hidden homelessness falls under the category of provisionally accommodated. It refers specifically to people who live temporarily with others but without guarantee of continued residency or immediate prospects for accessing permanent housing. These people are much more difficult to track as there is little to no contact with them through community organizations.”
According to de Witt, couch surfers, individuals residing with friends or family or people who sleep in their cars make up the majority of the hidden homeless population.
The executive director also points out that the near homeless are also quite difficult to track down. “These are people who are currently spending more than 40 per cent of their income on shelter costs. The people who’s shortened workday can make the difference between having enough money to pay rent or not.”
A report, published in December 2008, titled Research Proposal for an Emergency Shelter in Cornwall, states that “there is a common desire for a shelter among both the general population and the professionals who provide services to the most vulnerable people of the community. These people may find themselves without a place to stay on a short term or emergency basis.”
According to the study, in the early 1980’s, there was a shelter located on Water Street East, funded under a federal government grant. It operated until the funding ran out and further funding wasn’t accessible. Another home, strictly for females, was established in the early 1990's but it too was closed, citing lack of funding. A third shelter was developed and geared to members of the community who were under the age of 21. Clients were referred to the facility by community agencies. Poor occupancy as well as funding cuts forced its closure.
“Poverty is never a choice and its root causes are far deeper than a lack of financial resources,” outlined Jim McDonell, Member of Provincial Parliament for SD&G. “The stigma associated with poverty prevents many from seeking assistance for fear of being rejected, judged or losing what they have.”
An answer to poverty that is ineffective
The city has several answers to housing homeless people. Upon being referred for emergency housing by either police, the fire department, the Cornwall Community Hospital Crisis Team or the Red Cross Personal Disaster Assistance Group, individuals are sent to local motels and told to take a room. The bill is then sent to the Social and Housing Services Department of the City. The 2008 report indicated that the city’s only method for dealing with emergency housing is deemed not effective in providing a safe accommodation. “Research indicates that the motel presently used offers too much opportunity for misuse and is not effective in providing safe accommodation,” highlights the said report.
Other methods include, depending on the situation that has led these people into homelessness, Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability and Support Program, Community Integration Services or Crisis Team at the Hospital, among others. The priority of any of which is to find appropriate shelter for the homeless.
The ultimate struggle: facing winter
For most of us, the first signs of frost are reminders that winter is coming. We dig through our closets in order to retrieve the long dormant gloves and mittens and call the local garage in order to get our summer tires changed to their winter counterpart. As we sip on our hot cocoa, some members of the city’s homeless population are facing the most primal of challenges: surviving winter.
The Hope Mission, a not-for-profit Christian social care agency that cares for impoverished and homeless men, women and children, states that “for homeless people, frostbite is winter’s number one hazard. Most common is frostbite of hands or feet—from superficial to deep. Not unheard of, because of muddled judgment from intoxicants or mental illness, are frostbite-related amputations.”
Furthermore, the organization highlights that the cold temperatures lower immunity and thickens blood, increasing the risk of everything from infection to heart attack.
“Prolonged exposure causes hypothermia and can result in death. Every year, across Canada, some 80 people die of exposure. The core temperature at which a body expires varies widely from person to person. But in general, men are more prone to freezing than women, as are the lean and well-muscled; but those most prone are the ill-prepared homeless.”
With temperatures dipping past the freezing point, the said people must rely on restaurants in order to keep warm. But although their battle seems uphill, one Cornwall resident has taken it upon herself in order to help the ones in need.
"I'm not doing it to be recognized or to become famous,” said Chantal Gilmour.
The woman, with the help of her husband and two kids, has taken it upon herself to warm up Cornwall’s less fortunate. The hardworking team creates scarves and hats, which they then distribute throughout Cornwall. Some are attached to telephone polls, while others are left at the local Agapè Centre or bus stops.
Last year, she created 200 tuques and mittens. This year, she’s hoping to create the same amount or even more.
“We had 50 bags last year,” she explained.
The bags contain a scarf, a pair of mittens, a tuque and something else. Gilmour calls it her “little surprise”.
I am not lost! reads a little note. If you are cold, please take me to stay WARM!