County comes out in support of housing fundraiser
By Fay Martin
Special to the Times
Published March 7, 2019
Haliburton County stepped up to the plate to learn about homelessness, rural style, where losing the roof over your head, when couch-surfing has worn out, may well mean sleeping in a car, or some other circumstance not meant for human habitation – an RV, a shack, a tent, under the stars.
Through the month of February 2019, print and radio media in the county helped Places for People raise awareness about what homelessness looks like in our community. The Echo/Times ran articles weekly throughout the month, as did the Haliburton Highlander. Gabrielle Holmes of Canoe FM hosted a weekly interview that included Jocelyn Blazey, who organizes the Registry Week that attempts to put some metrics to hidden homelessness; and Marilynne Lesperance of the Minden Food Bank, which has modified its practice to accommodate people who live in cars or in other circumstances where they do not have capacity to cook. They made an excellent contribution to the primary goal for this project, which was to raise awareness about homelessness in our community.
Places for People challenged residents to walk the proverbial “mile in their moccasins” by sleeping in their vehicles on the night of March 1-2, in any of three sites in the county – the parking lot outside the council chambers in Minden, the lower parking lot of the library in Haliburton Village, and behind Lloyd Watson Centre in Wilberforce. It challenged people who supported the cause but for whatever reason couldn’t sleep out that night to pledge those that did. The response has been very encouraging, and there is serious talk about making this an annual event so we can continue to broaden awareness and make progress at eliminating the need for people to sleep in cars.
The event, at each site, consisted of a gathering around a campfire from 7 to 9 p.m., at which supporters and allies could offer their company and encouragement. Two-thirds of the County Road 1 band joined the Minden group to offer a repertoire of music with a housing theme, appreciated by a good gaggle of supporters. Other sites shared stories and fine-tuned their plans for the challenge ahead.
In the morning, the Sleepers gathered in a warm spot with hot beverages and breakfast for a reflection on their experience. Unfortunately, a plan to join the three sites by Skype didn’t materialize. The Community Kitchen arrived with food and drink for Minden Sleepers, and in Haliburton and Wilberforce, the site organizers (Ebonne Fayer in Haliburton and Nataly Mylan in Wilberforce) themselves provided the food.
Six Sleepers tucked into varyingly commodious vehicles in Minden, three in Haliburton, and 10 in Wilberforce. The Wilberforce contingent had a strong focus on families – one couple and three families were Sleepers, so there was heightened awareness of how family responsibilities would impact on the state of mind – and the state of living – of people who “choose” to sleep in vehicles. One of the younger Sleepers in Haliburton experienced anxiety and discomfort to the point where she considered bailing in the middle of the night (but didn’t – good on you!).
The Minden group also noted that being part of an approved group event ameliorated the sense of isolation and vulnerability that would otherwise loom large. They also meditated on the loneliness of dealing with what goes through your mind when you can’t get to sleep – cold toes, cold nose, discomfort of various sorts – and concluded that if your circumstances were dire, those sleepless hours would be very long indeed, and the prospect of more than one night in such a situation overwhelming.
Bodily functions assumed new profile: the misery of needing to pee in the night, the importance of access to a washroom to brush teeth and comb hair in the morning, the discomfort of trying to sleep in cold or cramped conditions. One night is an interesting challenge – but pretty much everyone agreed that more than one night would be soul-sucking and began to conjecture about the extremes to which they might go if faced with that reality.
The event was also a fundraiser for Places for People; all proceeds will go to the current project, a one-bedroom apartment in its Cardiff property that is currently underway.
The initial intent was to use the prospect of pledging as a way of broadening the conversation, but financial support for Sleepers has been impressive. Many people, well over 100, said they couldn’t be Sleepers for whatever reason, all of them good, but pledged support to those who took the challenge. Haliburton, with the fewest Sleepers, pledged big, over $2,000.
Wilberforce Sleepers brought in about $950 and Minden just under $4,000. Minden also deserves kudos for 100 per cent council support – two councillors were Sleepers, two others intended to but were derailed by last-minute obligations, and the remaining three gathered and all pledged generously. We can confidently say the overall total of pledges received – including those few still outstanding – was more than $6,000.
Places for People considers this a very successful event and is open to the rising tide of recommendation that it become an annual event. We tried hard to engage high school students this year, which unfortunately didn’t succeed, but the Interact Club is planning a parallel event that meets the school’s security standards. Hopefully, next year we might be able to bring these together – which is important, because young people are the most at risk for having to sleep in cars, since many resources available to adults are not available to them.