This is the first in a series of articles written by people who are or have experienced homelessness, in an effort to build awareness around issues of homelessness and poverty as well as give a voice to those who've experienced it. If you or a loved one has experienced homelessness, please consider sharing your own "what I want you to know about homelessness" story with us through email.
Shared anonymously by a wise and humble woman we will call "Teresa".
"What I want you to know about homelessness is that it's not a conscious decision one makes. There is a big myth about teens leaving good homes because they don't want to follow rules, but in many cases it is a very unsafe situation, and living with a drug or alcohol abusing parent with abusive and angry tendencies, or abusive siblings or guardians, even room mates, is just not safe.
I want you to know that having no place to go means hours pounding the pavement, looking for options, praying that it won't rain, or spending hours in a coffee shop hoping the bad weather will finally let up. It means riding on a bus from one end of the city to the other with no known destination, and canvassing spots that you could sleep on but don't feel safe to.
What I want you to know most about homelessness is that It's a very helpless feeling, to not have a safe place in your community to go, to have no home and be out of options."
Learn how you can help create a safe place for people experiencing homelessness by clicking here.
I get asked this alot. The homeless problem isn't as visible here as it is in other cities. We don't often see people curled up on the side walk with everything they own in a ruck sack. Unless you are looking for them.
Statistics are few and far between. How do you accurately count people who are alone, pushed to the margins, invisible?
While there aren't many exact numbers, I can tell you that a local agency had to turn away 603 people in need of emergency housing last year.
I can tell you that The Homeless Hub estimated that there were 511 people sleeping on the streets of Belleville in 2010, and 955 more in danger of becoming homeless.
I can tell you that the waiting list for affordable housing in this city is almost 3000 people long.
And I can tell you that nobody working on the front lines downtown will find these numbers surprising.
But more than statistics, we have stories.
I know a man, who after exhausting all his other resources in the city, spent some cold nights sleeping in a storage unit where he keeps the trash he collects.
I know several people who were paying month to month to sleep on a couch in another persons apartment when a dispute left them suddenly without anywhere to live.
I've watched people arrive from out of town, thinking they could start a new life here in Belleville, shocked to discover when they get here that there is no shelter for them to stay in while they get on their feet.
I've stood on the sidewalk in the rain with men and women in crisis, calling services and doing my best to advocate for them, only to be told that their only option is to accept a bus ticket to a shelter in kingston or peterborough, whisking them away from their home, their roots, everything familiar when they already feel vulnerable.
I've watched people choose to live in the woods in order to escape the negative atmosphere of the cheap room they were renting.
I've known young adults who chose to sleep on couches where they didn't feel safe in order to escape the elements.
Even now, as you read this, there are people scrambling to find a place to sleep tonight.
So does Belleville need a homeless shelter? Absolutely. But more than that, Belleville needs to become aware that we need a shelter. Because the more we know, the more we can help.
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
― William Wilberforce
(Photo Credit: bluesbby via flickr CC)
What does it mean to treat people who are homeless with dignity?