Personal experiences of homelessness, poverty meant to better understand current crisis
'I think it's really hard for people who haven't been through it to understand...I just hope that you can try'
"I had no idea how to cope with being homeless."
That's what a woman named Tara told city council in Greater Sudbury last night.
The 60-year old was one of eight individuals who presented during a public input session on homelessness. The participants all provided first hand accounts of their lived experiences, as well as offered suggestions on how to help improve supports available.
A similar meeting was held Wednesday night for representatives from local social service groups that help the homeless.
"I have one bag of belongings," Tara told councillors. She has been staying at Cedar Place Women and Families Shelter and felt fortunate for the help she's received since early December.
"There are staff who remind us that we're human, respect us as people and who have helped me to find a place or I would be really homeless today."
Joel Boivin works as an outreach nurse in downtown Sudbury, but also shared his personal experience of living in poverty and squatting in an unsafe space with no windows or heat.
"Currently I am in a position of being transiently housed," he said.
"Some of the starvation, I think that's something that unless you experience it yourself you have no idea the shame that you feel. Even just every person that you pass you feel like a lesser being just cause you know that they're not possibly in as much pain and hunger as you are right now."
Boivin says over the past two years especially has been difficult for those who find themselves homeless, particularly for men.
"That caring aspect used to be a room with staff and supports and meals and things like that, that's now transformed into a cot. A cot in a room with 30 other people that used to be only acceptable in the winter on cold alert nights," he said.
Boivin says poverty has shown him how strong he can be and what resources he can work with, however he wanted to see more opportunities for those with little financial resources. He also wants to see accessible avenues for those who want to enter home ownership.
Don't know if they'll be around tomorrow
"This is a life or death situation for so many people outside right now, and the reality is that since the beginning of the pandemic things have gotten so much worse for people," said Kryslyn Mohan, a social worker who has lived experiences with homelessness.
She spoke about what it's like to provide outreach to individuals who are homeless and spending time outside in winter elements.
"We're having to take that extra moment just to look at their face and to hold their faces in our memories because we don't know that they're going to be here the next day," Mohan said.
"I think it's really hard for people who haven't been through it to understand, and I appreciate that, but I just hope that you can try," she told councillors.
Mohan is a part of a poverty and homelessness advocacy group. She says the group has sent its list of recommendations to the city to help address the local homeless crisis.
The suggestions she spoke about at Thursday's input session included more emergency shelter spaces, public washrooms in the Donovan and downtown areas, allowing for temporary personal shelters and support for anyone who wants to build their own personal shelters.
Charles Tossell says if it wasn't for relatives who took him in after he got out of jail in 2008 he would have been homeless.
"I was basically couch surfing. It took me awhile to find a place."
Tossell says all the hoops someone must jump through to first apply for and then receive social assistance, are frustrating.
He suggested individuals living under the poverty line have an Income Pass to avoid showing documentation to multiple agencies.
"You'd just show that to all the department services, whether it be for food banks, applying for any kind of services in town or going to the mission and so forth. It's very frustrating [when] we have to prove to someone you're low income in multiple areas just to get help," Tossell said.
Some of his other suggestions included better communication between various social service agencies and departments, more transitional housing and more accessible housing for people with disabilities.
Other solutions that were suggested from speakers included more emergency shelter spaces, safe spaces, more supportive housing and even digital billboards downtown.
Mayor Brian Bigger stated the session was important to help council to get a better understanding of the crisis the city is facing.
"I'm very impressed by the solution-based conversations that we've heard."