Hope Needs to Expand
As the Executive Director of the Centre of Hope - the only daytime drop-in centre for the homeless in Fort McMurray, Stephen Bryant has a desire to talk to people about homelessness...and he has been working endlessly on addressing the issue.
“People often say: ‘It is a person’s own fault if they are homeless’ or ‘Homeless people are all drunks or addicts and they should get a job.’ These are often the misconceptions of a lot of people although they do not know anything about the circumstances of the individual.”
In the State of Homelessness in Canada 2013 report, it was estimated that at least 200,000 Canadians access homeless emergency services or sleep outside in a given year. The actual number is potentially much higher given that many people who become homeless live with friends or relatives and do not come into contact with emergency shelters. Recent data from a March 2013 Ipsos Reid poll suggests that as many as 1.3 million Canadians have experienced homelessness or extremely insecure housing at some point during the past five years.
“We hardly ever think about the single woman with three children who lost her job when we hear the word homelessness. We probably don’t think about the 30-year-old with two degrees and too much debt to pay when we think of homelessness, or that it could be you someday. We are easy to judge when it comes to people and situations we do not know. If I have the chance to talk to people about this, most of the time their response is: Oh I never thought about this.”
To educate the public and have an open discussion is a very urgent need for Stephen. One initiative to communicate with the public is the Homelessness Awareness Week, which took place May 25th-30th of this year. One of the probably most original but also most effective ways to erase prejudices was the Hope in the Dark event. People gave up their cosy bed at home and slept outside.
“A lot of the participating people told me that it really changed their opinion. Among other opportunities to address homelessness, I would love to go to schools and have workshops there for kids so that they get a better understanding of what homelessness is. Children are willing to absorb new perspectives and it’s important to educate them in order to bring about change in the public’s opinion on homelessness.”
Education is the first step to tolerance and support but it is not enough to get people off the streets.
Housing First a national homeless plan focuses on helping individuals and families to quickly access and sustain permanent housing. The program has proven to be effective at getting people off of the streets while saving cities and municipalities thousands of dollars. For instance in Montreal for every $10.00 invested in the Housing First model, $8.27 was saved in money spent on other services such as hospitalization, shelters, police services, and the judicial system for high-need participants and $7.19 was saved for moderate-need participants. The Centre of Hope is one very important link in achieving the goal of Housing First in Wood Buffalo but in order to do so they need to expand as demand for their services have been increasing throughout the years.
“We need to have a bigger building in order to offer the right programs. The other day somebody said about our necessity of expansion: ‚I thought it was about ending homelessness!” In order to get somebody off the street and back into society a lot of transitional steps are necessary”.
For 10 years now the Centre of Hope has been open and Stephen and his staff have been helping people who are going through hard times giving them food, clothing, health services, outreach programs, and for some provide housing. If you would like to know more about Stephen and his staff’s work with the homeless or if you would like to donate, please visit fmcentreofhope.com. Stephen would like to hear from you.