Sarah and John were a young couple with a four month old baby. John had been excited about the new baby, loved Sarah’s beautiful growing belly, and attended the difficult, but amazing birth. The baby was healthy, but challenging, slept little, cried a lot, and left little time for the parents to be alone together. One morning, after a restless, sleepless night, John announced that it was all too much for him. It wasn’t what he expected, and he was “out of here.” John was the sole support of the new family. Sarah did not have the funds to cover the rent on their one bedroom suite in Uphill. She was suddenly homeless.
The faces of homelessness are many, and in our community, and throughout Canada, homelessness takes many forms. The stereotype vision of the middle aged, disheveled, alcoholic or mentally unstable male lying on the street, is not the only homelessness reality. Young moms like Sarah, elderly people who have worked all their lives whose pensions can no longer cover their basic expenses, families who suffer sudden job loss, teenagers who have suffered abuse throughout their childhoods who are either thrown out of their houses or run away, business owners whose businesses have gone under during the recession, families who lose their loved ones, and their homes in sudden devastating mudslides — these are some of the many possible faces of homelessness.
The reality is, it can happen to anyone. Life happens. Circumstances change and we are, all of us, vulnerable.
Homelessness does not only refer to being out on the street. Relative homelessness — which is more prominent in Nelson — refers to the inability to find decent, safe, stable, affordable and clean housing. Homelessness rarely occurs in a vacuum… it often occurs in the context of economic distress, poverty, and/or family or personal crisis.
As someone who has been involved with babies, young children and families for my entire adult life, I am particularly concerned about the impact that inadequate or unstable housing has on children’s development. I have seen too many young families living in substandard housing, too many families working two or three jobs using one-third of their income on poor quality housing, too many single moms desperately trying to find an affordable, stable, safe place to live where their children are welcome.
Children need a stable healthy living environment to call home so they can develop to their full potential. When they don’t have it, a whole range of problems follow which ultimately are damaging not only to the individual children, but to all of us. Lack of stable housing can result in difficulties in school, learning problems, social problems, health problems, a troubled adolescence, and eventually a troubled adulthood.
Nelson has a serious lack of quality, affordable family housing. It has been years since any affordable family housing was built here. There have been some wonderful housing initiatives that have helped a range of people in housing distress. But nothing new has been built for families. Families with children are key to the healthy economic and social development of any community. And, as a point of information, one-fourth of the people who use the Nelson Food Bank, are children whose families are permanent residents of Nelson.
During this Homelessness Awareness Week I am asking that we all be aware of the many faces and forms of homelessness in our community, but to be especially aware of the plight of many of our young families. Speak up and advocate for affordable family housing, speak up for our children.
Judy Banfield has a masters degree in early childhood education, is an internationally certified lactation consultant and is the owner of Mountain Baby