On one night in May, volunteers counted 232 people sleeping in shelters or on the streets but two men in Regina put a face to the situation.
“What’s all this about?” asked Hilliard Goodpipe as he looked over a news release with numbers from the of the 2015 Point-In-Time Homeless count. He doesn’t need a survey with numbers to give him a picture of homelessness in the city because it’s his life.
The city’s first point-in-time count of homelessness is only a snapshot of the issue. There is no way to tell how many people were missed when 150 volunteers took to the streets to do the survey. On that night, 204 people were staying in shelters with 126 in emergency shelters, 62 in transitional housing and 16 sleeping at the overnight detox centre. There were 28 people counted on the street including eight who were sleeping in parks or on sidewalks.
Goodpipe doesn’t remember being surveyed, but he is one of the people you might pass on the street any day.
“I’ve been homeless for three years in Regina here. I’ve never applied for welfare; to hell with welfare,” he said.
At 65, he says he would rather work than take a government hand-out.
“I do casual labour over at the casual labour office. I never turn down a job. I make a few bucks every week and I’m okay,” he said.
Right now he’s living at Wascana Park or staying at emergency shelters some nights. He won’t deny he has a drinking problem, pointing out that he pays for booze by collecting bottles from dumpsters.
“I’m not proud of myself. Alcohol took – it kind of buggered me up,” he said.
Goodpipe would fit in with the 45 per cent of the people in the survey who said they are experiencing chronic or episodic homelessness. Now he says he can take care of himself living on the streets. But he says his life was not always like this. He grew up on Standing Buffalo First Nation and went to residential school. When he was younger he worked for a landscaping company in Calgary; he smiles thinking about that time.
For Gary Brandon, living on the streets is relatively new. He says he used to work at the Salvation Army. Before that he did odd jobs in construction or hauling furniture.
“I lost my job in September and lost my place so now I sleep in places like this,” he says, pointing to a parkade. “I try to sneak up to the top and wherever it’s warm, that’s where I sleep.”
Brandon is quick to admit that he is also an alcoholic and that he lost his job because he was drinking every day. He says niece committed suicide two years ago his, and another niece died of cancer last September. That’s when his life spiraled completely out of control.
In addition to dealing with alcoholism, Brandon says he’s also diabetic and has a thyroid problem. In the survey, 80 per cent of homeless people reported dealing with a medical condition or mental health issues or addictions or a combination of all three.
Brandon says he’s not looking for a hand-out, he always worked for a living and he still does when he can find the odd job unloading trucks.
“I still know how to work. I’m not scared of work. I’ve never been scared of work,” he said.
Someday he hopes to get a full time job again.
“I know I could. What would it take? It would take getting my life back together, to get sober, to get a place again,” Brandon commented.
He says right now alcoholism is standing in his way, and he knows it. Brandon says he hasn’t had an easy life, but neither has anyone else he knows. For now he’s just happy to be alive.
The point-in-time homelessness count was commissioned by Regina’s Community Advisory Board for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. The full report will be released in the fall and one of the main goals of the 34 partner organizations is to introduce a Housing First model next spring.
Tyler Gray is the communications coordinator at Carmichael Outreach. He agrees that homelessness often seems to go hand in hand with addictions and mental health issues. But he doesn’t agree that those issues are the root causes of homelessness. He says being homeless will often make those issues worse.
“If a person is in a position where they’re trying to deal with an addiction or they’re trying to process a major mental illness that they’ve been diagnosed with, it’s difficult for someone to do that without stability and a place to lay their head at night,” he said.
Gray says placing blame on addictions and mental health issues has been used too often in the past to wash our hands of the problem of homelessness.
Part of the idea behind Housing First is to give people the stability of a home while providing access to support services to deal with underlying issues like addictions and mental health. Gray says cities like Medicine Hat have all but ended street homelessness by using Housing First and that would be huge for Regina.