Russ Sanche, Portal Youth Outreach Association
The intention of this article is to help the community at large see a way forward through this housing crisis. There are several key pieces, including prevention, community capacity, and housing. This comes from a place of deep gratitude for the work that has already been done, the community support, and collaboration that has allowed such great progress in the last few years.
The next critical step for ending homelessness across the Annapolis Valley is to get everyone on board. We must shift our thinking from emergency or crisis response. This is challenging during a housing crisis. We need to go upstream and think prevention. How do we strengthen families? How do we respond when they are struggling and how do we support them in a respectful and practical way? Recreation is a social service that municipalities can deliver that provides the first line of defense if everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, can participate. Affordability is not the only barrier. Marginalization comes in many forms and that needs to be addressed so all feel welcome in their community and in programming. Recreation professionals and professionals in social services often do not work together across sectors. Yet the person in the community who feels alone, anxious, or unable to join in needs to be reached from a multidisciplinary perspective. That approach would allow us to ensure that people who are marginalized can do meaningful recreation and develop confidence and skills for their future.
Further prevention strategies would include a safe place in every community for young people to come together with older individuals who can teach them. It would help them connect with others who could go for a walk with them or play a game with them and get the help that they need. Community safe spaces would get youth off their device and meeting their neighbours. Safe spaces would reduce the isolation that seniors or single parents often experience. Safe spaces would allow programming for addiction recovery groups, peer support activities, and any other group that needs to belong.
When there are problems brewing in a family or in someone’s life due to mental health challenges, a safe place can make all the difference. There are some excellent programs in other places that we could duplicate in the Annapolis Valley. These programs go by various names but what is inherent in all is the ability to help families talk, reconnect, re-build, and help youth to transition to adulthood. It’s all about community learning to be a village.
Another prevention piece is to make sure that everyone has the income necessary to experience healthy living. There needs to be better alignment with income and cost of living which means things like universal basic income and living wages. Financial assistance and support that is human-centred and practical need to go hand in hand to help people achieve their goals. We have seen collaborative services make a great impact in the lives of youth. All these things are possible if there is political will and strategic advocacy.
Good mental health is a challenge for many people in our community. Let us move mental health and addictions work to the community. Make community-based peer support model initiatives possible. We dream of a time when these community-based programs are carried out through the mediums of art, outdoor adventure, gardening, or sport. In Finland, they implemented a national program, one of the pillars being funded activities, seeing an increase in youth participation in sport and recreation. Finland has one of the lowest rates of addiction among its teen population. People can learn to be good neighbours through getting peer support training, by getting involved in intergenerational activities and by ensuring their community activities are inclusive of every member of the community. What is it going to take for us all to be good neighbours?
The Annapolis Valley is home to some fantastic community-based organizations, working in different ways in relation to the issue of housing. However, there is a clear lack of capacity for one organization to develop affordable housing on a large scale but there is already a willingness to work together. In the last 2 years, there have been productive conversations between organizations, municipalities, the provincial government, CMHC, and those in need of affordable housing. We are at a great impasse, there just are not enough places for people to live, period. While this might be obvious to everyone, what might not be obvious is that we need to make serious systemic changes and be strategic. Funding programs need to be providing enough incentives to developers, there needs to be increased supports for landlords, there needs to be quick turnaround in adjusting by-laws and regulations in order to increase housing stock in several different ways. I think we need 1000 units in the Annapolis Valley, now. The know-how is there. Initiatives have proven to be successful in other places in Canada and if every one of these things were to be put into place, we could find our way out of this crisis. The multi-prong approach includes accessory dwelling suites and garden suites, mixed market housing, mixed generational housing, accessible housing, transitional housing programs, housing developments owned by non-profits in perpetuity, rent-to-own programs, and homeownership assistance programs. The Affordable Housing Commission Report is a good place to start but unless actions are fast-tracked and we reduce the time it takes to get projects on the go and bring the dream into reality, we will continue to fall deeper into the crisis. So, let us get everyone on board.