Homelessness is a condition we all agree is worth eradicating. Easier said than done, we may say. While in urban areas it’s signs are obvious to even those fervently disinterested. Although many do ignore its presence, it’s not easy to overlook that person sleeping on the bench along a busy thoroughfare. But homelessness leaves less of a trail in rural areas.
Plus, homelessness is a condition that easily disappears behind the more apparent ideals we hail regarding rural life—peace, comfort, an idyllic quality. In either case, homelessness is a social ill that can be rectified. Once it’s identified, there are methods to ensure its abolishment. Sometimes, people just need to know there’s someone there who can lend a hand.
For many, small towns are an unspoiled refuge, places seemingly far beyond the roar of the city. They’re places where those who choose to live there can enjoy many quiet moments of peace slipping by, little tread of the day remaining. Yet, it often disguises certain elements that fail to harmonise with that tranquility.
Homelessness, being one of these conditions, is therefore too often hidden from our view.
Harsh realities like crime and, in particular, issues such as homelessness are like splinters that can disrupt that serenity. And because they are “out of place” with the doctrines of rural life, they are less noticed.
Homelessness, for one, is certainly not a defining characteristic of small town life. Ask anyone in the myriad small towns that dot Placentia Bay, or small towns anywhere, for that matter, about the presence of homelessness and I can guess the response—“Huh?” they might say. “We don’t have homelessness here,” they would assert.
It is also a matter of homelessness not adhering to the visual keys with which urban homelessness has become synonymous—people on the streets or in missions. It’s hidden.
Homelessness simply doesn’t always accord with the idyllic reservoir of rurality. Thus, we may fail to see it. So, our goal is to find ways to shed light on these more malignant aspects of life. If left to metastasise, homelessness will go on to weaken the people who comprise the community.
What is Hidden Homelessness?
According to Statistics Canada, hidden homelessness sits within the rubric of those who are “provisionally accommodated.” According to the federal government, these individuals are using emergency shelter and other system supports because they have been unable to secure permanent housing, Hence, they remain functionally homeless.
These individuals may be staying with relatives or friends—couch surfing. Sometimes, we’d find them living in their cars or trucks. They are “hidden,” as they do not take advantage of homeless supports or other services and are not adequately housed.
Who Can Help
Identifying those in need of assistance is one of the most difficult tasks when addressing hidden homelessness. However, most people who are encountering problems regarding homelessness are likely going to avail of some form of social assistance.
The Placentia area, Cape Shore, Whitbourne service providers who offer resources for families would be one of the sources of assistance. Regardless of their needs, people would be reaching out to these types of organisations.
No doubt if people are challenged in their attempts to find affordable housing, there are likely other problems tied to food or employment. Thus, organisations offering services such as employment assistance and food banks play a central role.
Another key service provider would be ones tied to mental health and addictions. People who are homeless are more susceptible to mental health problems. These organisations are likely also going to be assisting people encountering problems finding housing. Finally, organisations focussed on housing will clearly be a central player in the issue of difficulties identifying permanent housing.
The Personal Touch
The various reasons homelessness has remained invisible are true. Yes, homelessness has countered the pastoral facade that encompasses many rural communities. And yes, homelessness is largely hidden from the general view in rural areas.
However, it becomes apparent that one of the primary rationales for the concealment of homelessness in rural areas is simply because there’s no one who can provide any assistance.
The organisations above certainly offer a more informed glimpse of rural homelessness. However, organisations such as those who deal with housing or homelessness are not the only ones needed. What’s needed is a Housing Outreach Worker (HOW), someone who can offer more of a personal touch. This is someone on the frontline whose sole goal is to assist people with their attempts to locate permanent housing
Housing Outreach Worker
Since November 2021, the Placentia area, Cape Shore and Whitbourne area has benefited from the efforts of a Housing Outreach Worker (HOW). Notices were placed in the various communities to make people aware of the services offered by the HOW. Gradually, people began to get in touch and avail of the HOW’s services.
As soon as the word had gotten around the HOW was in place, people appeared daily requesting assistance. So, it seems one of the primary things necessary is to ensure someone is able to offer guidance.
The HOW who currently works in the Placentia area, Cape Shore area and Whitbourne area is also there to offer assistance for the clients who’ve availed of the services. Sometimes, it’s just a quick chat on the telephone. A lot of times the programmes need to be deciphered. It’s essential as it conveys a genuine interest and concern in making certain their problems are being solved.
Turning the Tide on Homelessness
It may appear simplistic to state that all we need is to ensure someone is there to provide assistance. And not only just assistance, someone is required who can show compassion and be genuinely interested in solving homelessness. In the end, though, perhaps all people need to solve one of the most burdensome problems is time.
Time is needed to patiently identify the heart of the problem—what is necessary, who needs to be contacted and so on. Time is required to follow-up with the various services and organisations needed to get someone housed. Time is also necessary to speak with those being helped to assure them, very simply, they do indeed matter.