When a house is not a home

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The issue of homelessness is beginning to attract more attention in rural parts of Ontario, and a new series of Fact Sheets have been issued by the Rural Ontario Institute [ROI] to provide concrete data on the situation. In some of the categories, the United Counties of Leeds & Grenville [UCLG] are not as affected as other rural communities in Ontario. For example, in the ranking of areas by percent of households residing in dwellings that are “not adequate”, or “not suitable”, UCLG remain below the provincial average of11.6%, with around 9% of homes considered not adequate or suitable.

However, in the category “Ranking of census divisions by percent of households residing in dwellings requiring “major repairs”, UCLG was above the average, at about 7.5%. This is somewhat higher than the Ontario average. In 2016 in Ontario, 6.1% of households were residing in dwellings needing major repairs (examples include defective plumbing or wiring or needed structural repairs to walls/floors/ceilings). The ROI Report notes that “housing stock in rural areas tends to be, on average, older than in urban areas where newer housing makes up a larger proportion of the dwellings. Maintaining older buildings can require more ongoing investment as structures fall into disrepair over time and this helps explain metro/non-metro differences. Where housing is inadequate, the causes, at least in part, are due to low household incomes and/or high costs for repairs to dwellings”.

Local agencies are also looking at this problem, and redefining terms like “homelessness” to take into account the problem of those living in unsafe and/or unsanitary conditions. Linking Hands, an outreach mission of the House of Lazarus in Mountain, held two Homelessness Forums in 2016 and 2017, at which the facts of homelessness and inadequate housing in rural Dundas County were discussed in the light of ROI research.

As one response to those meetings, Linking Hands is holding their first housing event, “Home Sweet Home”. Focus will be on information, services and resources connected to housing, including renting an apartment or house, buying and owning a home, becoming a landlord, affordable housing, social housing, financial aid programs for home upgrades, utilities, finances and budgeting, and more.

Another initiative is the Homeless Enumeration Project. The provincial government has taken an interest in determining the state of homelessness in our communities. The project will survey residents of an area in an effort to quantify the number of people whose living situation could be categorized as homeless. This includes, but is not limited to: the homeless in plain sight; the hidden homeless, such as couch surfers; the temporarily housed; those with insecure housing; those living in unsafe and/or unsanitary conditions.

We will have more on this project, and homelessness in general, in future issues of the Times.

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