During Homelessness Action Week last month, many in the community came together to give a helping hand and learn more about homeless in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. (Special to The News)

COMMUNITY NETWORK: Homelessness is about more than housing

Donations of socks and winter items seen as a start, but more must be learned by all

by Leslie Billinton & Christina Shearme /Special to The News

What do we really know about homelessness?

Homelessness is on the rise according to the National Housing Strategy, and has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

Occasionally, we see heart-warming stories of successful transitions from homeless to housed. But more often they’re negative stories, people living on the streets, using substances, and the opioid crisis.

Many believe we understand who a “typical homeless person” might be and what homelessness is when in reality, there is no such thing as a “typical” person experiencing homelessness.

The factors that surround homelessness and who experiences homelessness are, at the very least, emotionally charged and complex.

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Homeless can be defined simply as not having a home or is often described as living “rough.”

However, you can be homeless or living with the risk of being homeless even if you have a roof over your head.

This broader definition includes couch surfing (living with friends or family), living with violence in the home, living apart from family, temporarily housing in a hostel or shelter, and living in conditions that negatively affect health.

Many paths lead to someone becoming homeless, people can fall in and out of homelessness throughout their lives or struggle to maintain their housing.

Things such as loss of employment, family violence, substance use by ones self or family members, a history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, involvement with the child welfare systems, affordability and the current lack of affordable housing – these are a just a few things that influence the where and how of homelessness.

Living without secure housing impacts physical and mental health, safety, employment, and access to resources.

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It is not unique to our community, or to B.C. And, as history shows us, it’s not easily solved within communities, provinces, Canada, or the world.

Housing is not just about four walls and a roof, there is a lot of emotion attached to housing.

Canadian law recognizes that the right adequate housing is a fundamental human right.

It recognizes that housing is essential to people’s inherent dignity and well-being, and is essential to building sustainable and inclusive communities.

It involves attitudes, assumptions, neighbours, and communities. Understanding of the impacts of homelessness requires that we acknowledge our own awareness, knowledge, biases, and values. We must identify where this knowledge is gained from and how our experiences personally, with family, friends, and the media, have shaped this understanding.

It raises many questions, and is the centre of much debate.

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Is housing a right? Where can affordable housing be built? What housing currently exists in our community, and who has access?

What we do know is that housing is a critical part of our social infrastructure and the platform on which most other aspects of social life depend. Ongoing respectful conversations about housing must include individuals with lived and living experience of homelessness to increase awareness, reduce stigma, involve learning and lead to innovative housing solutions.

The impacts of homelessness in Canada affect the entire population.

The intention behind Homelessness Action Week is to raise public awareness on issues of homelessness, to increase knowledge about resources, and to encourage action to support local solutions that create permanent, safe housing in our community.

In mid-October local agencies along with the Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows Community Network and Stop Overdose Ridge Meadows – Community Action Table invited community members to drop off a donation of socks and to learn about how they support people with their housing, food security, safety, mental health, and basic connection needs.

They provided meals, flu clinics, and warm weather items for our vulnerable community members, as well.

Community service programs delivered through non-profit or faith-based community organizations are critical for those with complex needs, such as those facing homelessness.

Not only do they assist with finding stable, secure, and affordable housing, but also a diverse range of supportive services tailored to psychological needs, cultural background, sexual orientation, age, and ability of the community.

Thank you for donating socks and warm weather items, taking time to learn, and continuing the conversation about housing for everyone in our community.

For more information and resources supporting housing security in our communities, Community Network suggests visiting the following websites:

https://211.ca

www.homelesshub.ca

https://ridge-meadows.pathwaysbc.ca

www.placetocallhome.ca

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PAST COLUMN – COMMUNITY NETWORK: Coming together in a time of crisis

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The Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows Community Network is a table meeting on the second Tuesday of each month with service clubs, non-profits, businesses, agencies, city services, and community members.

It is the goal of the Community Network to support efforts that add to our communities well being in creative and innovative ways.

Any interested community members are encouraged to join the virtual monthly meetings to find out about all of the work being done behind the scenes in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

To learn more about the Community Network, people can reach out to the coordinator Christina Shearme at info@resourceyourcommunity.com or visit the website at www.resourceyourcommunity.com.

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