Homeless in Happy Valley-Goose Bay remain plagued by lack of housing and programs
Despite improvements, a recent housing forum hears still not enough being done
They may not be easy or pleasant stories to share, but a recent public forum brought together people who are homeless in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to share their struggles and hope for improvements.
Amos Semigak moved to Happy Valley-Goose Bay from his hometown of Hopedale on the north Labrador coast last spring, and he did so without any real prospects of work or a place to stay.
Even with those challenges weighing heavily on his mind, he thought the support available in the town might give him a fighting chance of turning his life around.
"There's no place for me to go in my community," Semigak said.
"Coming here in Goose Bay, at least I have a chance staying at the homeless shelter, at the hub. And that's what's keeping me alive right now."
There's no place for me to go in my community.- Amos Semigak
He's thankful for the support he receives at the community shelter, along with the hot meals and having somewhere warm and dry to rest his head for the night.
Yet the shelter only operates overnight, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m, leaving much of the local homeless and transient population to fend for themselves through the day.
Semigak was one of the people who shared his experience of being homeless in the town and while different stories emerged, there are similar themes.
Semigak is known on the coast and in Happy Valley-Goose Bay for his talent as a traditional stone carver. But since arriving in town, he's also picked up work with the Nunatsiavut government.
"I'm just one of the lucky guys that found work here," he said, noting that finding consistent employment is difficult for members of the community's homeless and transient population.
Still, Semigak says those aimless, unstructured days when the shelter isn't open can lead to a damaging cycle of unhealthy thoughts for those who struggle with homelessness.
This waiting list, I've been on over four months now. I'm still waiting.- Amos Semigak
"The only thing we're going to look at is the negative things, like alcoholism and being around negative people. That hurts a person's mind, and body and soul," he said.
Despite working enough hours to open an employment insurance claim, Semigak still spends most nights at the local shelter. He can't afford to rent his own place, and subsidized affordable housing options can't keep up with the demand.
"I tried to get a place to stay with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and [Melville Native Housing Association] and I've been put on waiting lists. This waiting list, I've been on over four months now. I'm still waiting."
Growing family struggles to find a home
That lack of affordable, subsidized housing is something Corey Saunders knows all too well. He spoke about his struggles at the forum, which tackled issues like affordable housing.
He and his partner, Augusta Onalik, have faced numerous personal and institutional challenges in trying to find a home for themselves and their growing family.
After battling addiction and living on and off the streets for several years, the couple have now been clean for a year, and welcomed their new baby daughter into the world in early September.
"That was the stepping stone for us to get our lives back on track because if we never got sober, I wouldn't even be here talking to you right now," Saunders said.
If we never got sober, I wouldn't even be here talking to you right now.- Corey Saunders
They've been staying with Saunders's mother in a two-bedroom apartment for much of the past year because of what Saunders calls the "double-edged sword" of affordable housing policy.
"There's certain policies in place that families don't meet the criteria for, and that's keeping them out of [affordable housing programs]," he said.
Onalik also has two sons not currently in her care, in part due to the couple's inability to secure permanent housing.
Saunders is the first to admit their personal situation has drastically improved from previous years, but looks forward to a time when he and his growing family can have their own space.
Having a house and a home to call our own is our next step towards having a family.- Corey Saunders
"Our little girl is amazing. Everything is working out in that sense, but having a house and a home to call our own is our next step towards having a family."
Progress made, but still not enough funds
Jackie Compton-Hobbs is a member of the town's housing and homelessness coalition.
She said several improvements have been made in recent years, including the opening of the local shelter, and the provincial government's "Doorways" walk-in mental health services.
"We think that's a step in the right direction and the people who are living this every day think it too," she said. "They now have that resource available to them everyday."
Still, she also points to the province's lack of action on a funding request so the shelter can remain open and offer programming during the day.
"As of now that has not been approved," she said. "Hopefully we can put that letter back on the table and the government will look at it again."
with files from Labrador Morning