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Oshawa focuses on homelessness

Daniel Cullen wants you to think about what contributes to homelessness and what barriers unsheltered people face – especially this week.

And he knows, because he was homeless for 25 years.

Cullen, is no longer homeless, but is co-chair of The Gap Committee (GAP) in Oshawa, which works with other organizations and students to bridge the gap in services and find solutions to end homelessness.

He has worked with Durham College students from a variety of programs including nursing, social work, mental health and addictions, in addition to students from other post-secondary institutions.

The City of Oshawa has just wrapped up Homeless Awareness Week – an initiative to bring attention to the issue.

“Homeless Awareness Week is to acknowledge the good work that’s being done by multiple agencies and all levels of government to address the issue of homelessness and to eliminate homelessness by 2025 in the Durham Region,” said Cullen.

Cullen moved to Durham Region in 2014 with a mission to raise awareness about poverty and homelessness.

Strides are being made to address homelessness, but more still needs to be done, he said.

“I wanted to make something specific this year and there is a lot being done in Oshawa, but people are talking about the homeless in tent cities and stealing along with other problems going on,” said Cullen. “People have been focusing on the problems that come with a community that has a subculture.”

He is aware of the challenges the unsheltered in Oshawa are facing.

“Housing is a definite, the lack of adequate affordable housing is the big one,” said Cullen. “The opioid addiction is horrible in this town and the fentanyl addiction problems on the streets right now…it’s an epidemic.”

Cullen acknowledges systemic and personal problems can both lead to someone living on the street.

He says shelters are shutting down so those who can’t afford to rent or have no place to stay are being forced out onto the streets.

Despite the need for awareness around this week, the City has been working behind the scenes to show their support.

“The mayor has the Spirit of Service Group which is made of churches and faith-based communities getting together and looking for solutions from a faith-based position,” said Cullen. “Since this group formed, it has initiated the Homeless Sponsorship program.”

He says organizations are working together with the mayor and certain city councillors to battle some of the topics the unsheltered face.

Cullen says just because the week is over, the work doesn’t stop.

“Homelessness is not a regional issue; it is a City issue,” said Cullen

He wants to remind everyone homeless people are not defined by what they lack or what circumstances they may face.

Instead, they are people who have feelings, valuable thoughts, and a will to continue.

With 2020’s week ending, highlights and information can be found on their Facebook page, Oshawa Homeless Awareness Week – October 4–9.