The hidden homeless

Laura Metcalfe Cornerstone director Robert Brglez and shelter manager Sarah Johnson stand in front of the shelter mission statement.

By: Euvilla Thomas and Laura Metcalfe

Four walls, a warm bed, and food on the table. This might be the norm for many, but for June Maillet this luxury was almost unattainable in 1990.

At 14, she was homeless, kicked out of the house and on her own.

“It’s a little scary,” says Maillet. “My typical day would just be wandering. To be honest, I did a lot of walking, trying to find where my next meal was going to be.”

Now 41, she has moved on. She’s now a to being a mom to three kids but will never forget some of the low points of her life. Though her experience might be sad and tragic, especially for a young woman, Maillet is not unique. She is one of hundreds of young people who have been homeless in Durham Region – then and now.

The Homeless Hub, a website that shares data and research on homelessness, shows there are more than 700 people dealing with homelessness in the area right now. There is a desperate need for beds and emergency shelters locally.

According to a report by the Region of Durham, there has been an increase in the use of emergency shelters in recent years. The length of stay has increased from 20 days in 2012 to 35 days in 2013. There are three emergency shelters in the Durham Region, and combined they make up to about 93 beds in total.

More beds may help get more young people off the streets, a situation which would have helped Maillet a great deal.

“I was sleeping in a park one night and got picked up by two men and they were like ‘We can’t just leave you here,’ so they took me back to their place and that wasn’t too safe for me but I didn’t know what else to do, I was young,” says Maillet, thinking back to those days when she was out on the streets with not even a bed to lay her head on.

But some emergency shelters, such as Cornerstone says the number of beds available now has risen significantly from when it opened 50 years ago.

“We started with a house of six beds, right now we are at 40 beds,” says managing director of Cornerstone, Robert Brglez.

The Cornerstone Community Association Durham is an emergency shelter in Oshawa that serves men for a period of time. Brglez said the shelter is not a place to stay but a place to transition with help toward a better opportunity. People get help finding new job opportunities and affordable housing.

“Shelters need to lead to something else,” he says.

He said the homeless situation is different in Oshawa than Toronto. Here the homeless people are most often not on the streets, a problem which Brglez has coined the “hidden homeless.”

According to a report by Human Resources and Social Development Canada, households are spending more than half of their income on rent. At the same time, another report from the region shows the unemployment rate in the Durham Region at about 7.8 percent. On top of this, homeless people often also face mental health issues.

“Mental health is a contributing factor to homelessness,” says Sarah Johnson, shelter manager at Cornerstone. She says 50 to 60 per cent of the people using homeless services have self-disclosed mental health issues.

And Maillet is no exception. “I’ve been told I have come a long way. I’m bipolar,” she says. She says she was also a drug addict but this is not a part of her life anymore.

There are many others like her out there waiting for that life-changing moment. Maillet says she didn’t have any parental guidance at the time but she’s now at a more stable period in her life.

She is a peer support worker at the Canadian Mental Health Association and living at home with her husband and family. Today, she is optimistic of the future.

“I’m working at getting myself on my feet and growing as person,” she says.



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Laura is a second year journalism student at Durham College. She enjoys writing for campus, current affairs, and profile for The Chronicle. She loves to read and watch educational documentaries. Her work can be seen on Riot Radio. She hopes to work for CP24.