© Herald photo by Tyler Clarke
Homes for the Homeless co-ordinator Janice Henry is seen outside of their downtown Prince Albert office.
A consistent sore spot during Homelessness Action Week has been Homes for the Homeless -- an organization whose federal funding ended this month.
A few days after its funding ran out, program co-ordinator Janice Henry was still stopping by the organization’s downtown office to volunteer her time.
“During the life of this initiative, I can honestly tell you … that I have been not only educated but humbled by the stories that I have heard and by working with these people who have been very caring and respectful to me,” she said.
“When you commit yourself to working with people, and you dedicate yourself to working with people -- that work doesn’t end when the funding runs out.”
Fearing the organization’s closure will result in yet another gap in service for the city’s homeless population, Henry said that she will continue shopping around for funding opportunities.
Although she’s trying, it currently looks like the program will not be in operation over the winter months --a period of time Henry refers to as the program’s most crucial.
“The homeless community is most at most crisis during the winter months, because they simply can’t pitch a tent somewhere and sleep,” she said.
“That’s how we end up with these people last year who froze … Out in the streets, they’re scared because they don’t know who to turn to.”
Jubilation Residential Centres Inc. and North Saskatchewan River Métis Local 269 created Homes for the Homeless in 2010 after successfully applying for funding under the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy.
Within a few hours of their May 15 opening, the first homeless individual walked into their downtown office seeking assistance.
“We just ran from there, and Homes for the Homeless has almost consistently been providing service for almost four years, now,” Henry said.
Within the organization’s first 10 months, 168 families received assistance from the program, which Henry notes is minimal in costs and structure, with herself the only employee.
In addition to finding and setting homeless people up with homes, their key focus has been the missing piece -- keeping them in the home.
“We link them with other resources in the community and work with other resources to help these individuals,” Henry explained.
“We have a lot of people that come in and … they’re in a home and they’re just frantic. They get a call from their social worker and they just don’t know how to deal with it.”
During the life of this initiative, I can honestly tell you … that I have been not only educated but humbled by the stories that I have heard and by working with these people who have been very caring and respectful to me. Janice Henry
Henry walks people through all of these barriers, sometimes working with them off and on for years.
Another barrier can be the public opinion, Henry said, citing one program in particular that Homes for Homeless tried to start up -- where mats would be set up in a public building for homeless to sleep on -- as receiving little public buy-in.
“There’s a lot of apprehension, and I think the community really needs to be educated as to what homelessness is all about,” she said.
Their reasons for homelessness vary, though Henry is quick to note that it can happen to anyone.
“Everybody has their own unique story, and that saying ‘I’m just one paycheque away from homelessness’ is true for many of us,” she said.
“We’re not so very different,” she said. “The difference is, these people have not had access to the resources that I have.”
One of hundreds of stories Henry has to share is that of an elderly woman who was evicted from her apartment of 20 years due to it undergoing extensive renovations.
“She could not find a home, because of course she didn’t know how to go around and apply and find a home,” Henry said.
After less than a month at the YWCA, Henry helped the woman find a new apartment, as well as link her up with a family worker.
Language, culture and communications barriers can stand between people and housing, Henry said -- something Homes for Homeless helped break down.
Now that the program’s future is up in the air, Henry said that a number of her clients have expressed worry about where they’ll go for help now.
“There’s nowhere else that provides this service -- the ongoing support, the ongoing referrals, the advocacy, the mediation.
“Many people prefer not to look at homelessness, because it’s a very ugly thing. It’s a very scary thing, but it’s out here in Prince Albert. It exists.
“We as a community, we have an obligation to ensure that all our citizens are secure and protected and cared for, and I believe Homes for the Homeless is a community initiative.”