At Lindsay’s homeless shelter, more people are driving themselves to get there these days.
That’s not a good sign according to Lorrie Polito, the executive director of ‘A Place Called Home,’ Lindsay’s 19-bed shelter.
Having a car suggests some level of income from having a job. It’s a sign of the desperation of the so-called ‘working poor,’ those who are employed on some level but yet not making enough to get by.
“There’s not a lot of quality jobs left in Lindsay,” says Dave Tilley, operations manager at A Place Called Home.
“Some people have to tread water on Ontario Works” until they can get some work, usually lower paying service jobs, such as in the fast food industry.
Both Tilley and Polito are hopeful that the new basic income pilot that starts this fall in Lindsay will have a positive community effect.
“It will be interesting to see if basic income will reduce the number of working poor in the system,” says Polito, referencing the three-year Ontario pilot project that has just begun in Lindsay.
They worry, though, that if landlords figure out that more people with low incomes are getting more money through basic income that they will raise their rates.
Housing is certainly a huge concern in Lindsay. With a 0.1 per cent vacancy rate in town, Polito says it is “extremely hard” for people to find accommodation, especially for those in challenging circumstances.
“We find that people are staying here longer because there’s no place else to go,” usually about six weeks at a time, she says.
“And, there’s no point in pushing people out early if they are not ready to go,” says Tilley, who notes many people face multiple barriers.
A unique aspect of A Place Called Home is that those who are staying there are not required to leave during the day, as is the case with most shelters.
Most shelters give out a couple of meals but expect people to be gone otherwise until evening, explains Polito. At A Place Called Home, three meals a day are provided, including snacks, and people who find themselves there are free to call it home — day and night.
The Fentanyl Challenge
Every time the pharmaceutical companies create the next big thing in pain relief, Tilley and Polito know it’s only a matter of time before they start seeing the effects at the street level. Whether cocaine, OxyContin, or now Fentanyl, frontline agencies like the local homeless shelter see the effects firsthand.
The wave of Fentanyl and other opioid-related deaths that has been surging across Canada has finally hit small-town Ontario – including Lindsay and Kawartha Lakes. Not only is there Fentanyl to worry about, there is a far deadlier version known as carfentanil – a synthetic heroin laced with elephant tranquilizers, and 100 times more potent than the regular version. Just a few granules are enough to be lethal, and they can easily be hidden within other drugs. The largest seizure of this deadly drug in Canada’s history just occurred in Durham Region.
About half the people who end up needing A Place Called Home have a self-reported addiction of some kind, says Polito, and about half report a mental health issue as well. There is plenty of overlap with these conditions, and others.
“There’s no doubt we’re seeing a lot more overdoses,” says Tilley.
All their staff have been trained to use Naloxone kits, a drug that can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose. Staff are frustrated though, says Tilley, who tell him they worry people are using Fentanyl to excess because they feel safer knowing a Naloxone kit could save them.
In the last six months the shelter has had an above 80 per cent occupancy rate at any given time. In addition to those staying in the shelter, another 15-20 are considered outreach clients who may come in for a much-needed meal or even just to talk with counsellors.
Relationship with police
The shelter staff have a good working relationship with Kawartha Lakes Police, with officers often conferring to learn the situations and backgrounds of people the shelter staff members may have encountered, says Polito.
As well, a joint venture between Ross Memorial Hospital and the Kawartha Lakes Police Service called the Community Response Program involves a mental health clinician and a specially trained, plain clothed police officer who respond together to mental health crises in a “non-dramatic” way.
Despite the drug challenges, the housing crunch and the day-to-day pressures of their work, Polito and Tilley know that the service provided by A Place Called Home is working.
“We want the people who come here to feel comfortable,” says Polito, who notes that many of their clients end up coming back to volunteer once they’re back on track with their lives.
“I think that says something.”
HOMELESSNESS: ONE FAMILY’S STORY
“I was working at a minimum-wage job and my husband, who works seasonally, was in the off-season. Neither of us had benefits and one of our two kids got sick. The meds we had to buy put us behind on our utility bill.
The next month we owed two payments and bills just piled up from there. We tried to catch-up but fell behind on our mortgage as well. The bank foreclosed on our property. We stayed at a friend’s place for a while, but being four people, we outstayed our welcome quickly.
The same friend suggested we talk to A Place Called Home because they could help us with a long term plan. I was skeptical but took my family to talk to them. They made us feel hopeful and had us stay in a large private room so the kids didn’t feel uncomfortable. They helped us keep the kids in school, which was important after being uprooted.
We stayed until my husband’s work picked up again and we were able to move out. Even after that, A Place Called Home helped us come up with a plan to help us avoid finding ourselves in the same situation down the road.”
– A wife and mother of two (from the APCH website)