Homelessness could get worse, warns St. John's group

A new study says homelessness could get worse in St. John's in the next decade if a number of measures aren't taken.
A local group warns homelessness could get worse in St. John's, reports Krissy Holmes 2:33

A new study says homelessness could get worse in St. John's in the next decade if a number of measures aren't taken.

The Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness report outlines several measures taken in the past decade to address the problem.

But the committee warns that in a climate where rent has increased four times faster than the rate of inflation, the impact is being felt by a lot of people, many of whom are closer than ever to calling themselves homeless. 

Raymond Rowe often panhandles for change on the streets of downtown St. John's.

But he calls himself lucky since he has a place to live in a boarding house, while many others don't.

"People get arrested and everything," Rowe said. "They have a hard time finding a place to live, and sometimes you got to go to social services and they say you got to find a place to live yourself."

Rowe's observations line up with issues detailed in the report on homelessness.

"They may have mental health challenges, they may have justice involvement, they may have been sexually exploited," said Bruce Pearce, who chairs the Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness. In a city that has lots of development, Pearce says marginalized populations are getting pushed out in the cold. 

The committee has done a lot in the last decade to keep that from happening, including providing more than 200 supportive housing units, 60 shelter units, an outreach centre called Choices for Youth, and a social enterprise known as Stella’s Circle.

But Pearce says there are still big cracks in the system that people like Rowe could easily fall through. 

"A lot of people come from the Waterford and they don't get back to where they're from," Rowe said, talking about homeless people who have been discharged from the psychiatric hospital.

But Pearce says homelessness doesn't just affect those with mental illnesses. He says people from more than 9,000 households in St. John's are dangerously close to being kicked out onto the streets.

"When we started our work, we said, 'we don't want to be the Toronto of the east, known for our extreme poverty and our extreme wealth,' " Pearce said.

To avoid that, he says the city must offer more assistance, such as supportive housing models, more shelter space and more specialized services.

Although all of that will cost money, Pearce warns that failing to invest in such support systems could end up costing taxpayers more in the long run.

He says sustainable housing initiatives cost less than short-term emergency solutions, and ultimately could go a long way toward providing a safer and healthier community.