NIPAWIN — Homelessness is not just a big city problem and those working in the social services sector in Nipawin want to bring more awareness to the issue.
Staff at the Nipawin Oasis Community Centre see the impact that homelessness has on their community first hand as they work with clients who are homeless or couchsurfing, said Joy Hanson, executive director of the Oasis. Oasis staff saw 139 people needing assistance with homelessness and 76 being rehoused from April 2019 to March 2020, according to their annual report. From April to July 2020 alone, staff saw 149 people who are homeless from April to July and 35 of those rehomed, Hanson said.
COVID-19 has been the biggest contributor to this statistical jump, she said, but affordable housing and homelessness has been something Nipawin and area community services has been trying to draw attention to for years.
Louise Schweitzer with North East Outreach and Support Services said they have reports addressed to government dating back to 2010 and it will continue to be on their radar going into 2021.
Finding affordable housing is the biggest proponent of homelessness in Nipawin, Hanson said, as well as low incomes, addiction, living on social assistance, and barriers to finding adequate housing, Hanson said. Getting into social housing can be difficult with some people not meeting requirements due to lack of previous rental experience or having negative experiences renting in the past.
“We see overcrowding and then campers coming in, other people coming into their home which puts them at eviction. And then it's hard to rehouse them.”
These problems are passed down to children who are homeless as well, Hanson said. Several families that Hanson and her staff have worked with have never had a home of their own.
The solutions are there, Hanson said, as she wants to see more social housing built in Nipawin and homelessness needs to be addressed at all levels of government.
A lack of safe and affordable housing leads to other issues like barriers to education for children who are homeless, increased pressure on healthcare and local policing. Helping people find housing is a win-win for everyone, Hanson said, since investing in housing vulnerable populations gives an $8 return on every dollar invested.
Beyond that, people deserve a home, she said.
“They need to be able to live at home because once you meet those basic needs, then people can get an education, they can get counseling that they need. They're in survival mode right now just trying to live. So until society feels that that's important nothing is going to change.”
Schweitzer encourages everyone in need in Nipawin and area to reach out and get the supports they need from either North East Outreach and Support Services or Oasis. Dealing with homelessness is isolating and disheartening for people, but they are not alone, Schweitzer said.