Home­less­ness a ma­jor con­cern for agen­cies

Fi­nan­cial problems, ad­dic­tion and mental health is­sues un­derly wide­spread is­sue

The Welland Tribune - - Local - KRIS DUBÉ

Syed Mustafa says he owes his life to var­i­ous mental health and ad­dic­tion ser­vices in Ni­a­gara.

The 52-year-old had it all as re­cently as three years ago — a loft apart­ment in down­town Toronto, and in­come from two jobs rolling in.

Suf­fer­ing from bipo­lar dis­or­der, he also masked de­pres­sion with al­co­hol and co­caine, and even­tu­ally saw it all fall apart as his gam­bling ad­dic­tion drew him to the re­gion, go­ing all-in sev­eral nights a week at the casi­nos in Ni­a­gara Falls.

He hit rock bot­tom and ended up in the psy­chi­atric ward at St. Catharines hos­pi­tal af­ter what he de­scribes as a “de­pres­sive episode.”

He never re­sorted to hav­ing to live on the streets, but he did spend many months couch surf­ing, stay­ing with friends for short pe­ri­ods of time.

Re­hab fa­cil­i­ties such as Way­side House in St. Catharines and New Port Cen­tre in Port Col­borne also played crit­i­cal roles in him get­ting his life back on track.

Cur­rently six months sober, he landed his own apart­ment in Wel­land through the Hope Cen­tre’s pro­gram­ming and is work­ing on his re­cov­ery be­fore reen­ter­ing the work world.

Coin­ci­den­tally, while in Toronto, he worked for 15 years with the Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tion and Mental Health and the As­sertive Com­mu­nity Treat­ment team at North York Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, a ca­reer he hopes to con­tinue once he’s well, also putting the diploma from Hum­ber Col­lege’s nurs­ing pro­gram he earned in 1996 back in use.

Al­though he’s a had a few vices, booze was what did him in, he says in a re­cent in­ter­view at the Hope Cen­tre.

“It never led to any­thing good. I was in pretty rough shape,” says Mustafa, also de­scrib­ing his for­mer self as “lost” and “out of control.”

He be­came dis­con­nected from his fam­ily who live in Toronto and the U.S., but does say he is “re­con­nect­ing” with them as he fol­lows his cur­rent path to re­cov­ery, made pos­si­ble through the ser­vices pro­vided by the Hope Cen­tre, which re­cently as­sisted him in finding his new apart­ment and keep­ing clean.

“What’s been ef­fec­tive is the pro­gram­ming here. I have a lot of grat­i­tude for the peo­ple who have helped me,” says Mustafa, who vol­un­teers sev­eral days a week at the cen­tre to show his ap­pre­ci­a­tion, in­ter­act­ing with in­di­vid­u­als with sim­i­lar strug­gles.

Work­ing in the mental health and ad­dic­tion field be­fore his own problems caught up to him, Mustafa says his un­der­stand­ing of what peo­ple are go­ing through is vast.

“I’ve re­ally got to see the other side of it,” he says.

The Hope Cen­tre’s new chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, Jon Braith­waite, says the num­ber of peo­ple with­out shel­ter in Wel­land is un­known, but points out that most re­cent statis­tics, taken by Ni­a­gara Re­gion in late March, show there were 625 in­di­vid­u­als across Ni­a­gara ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness, 144 of them chil­dren.

There are 15 emer­gency beds avail­able through the Hope Cen­tre, in ho­tel rooms lo­cated in Ni­a­gara Falls, where peo­ple can stay for a max­i­mum of 30 days while try­ing to find their own res­i­dence.

In other apart­ments and homes, there is an ad­di­tional 45 beds of­fered through the cen­tre’s pro­grams.

Braith­waite says the is­sue of home­less­ness is wide­spread across Ni­a­gara and that the city isn’t unique to other com­mu­ni­ties.

“I couldn’t say it’s much dif­fer­ent than the rest of the re­gion,” he says, adding a large part of the cen­tre’s fo­cus is help­ing peo­ple face the root causes of why they don’t have a home.

“We try to ad­dress the is­sues that are caus­ing home­less­ness.”

In Oc­to­ber, be­fore Braith­waite took over as the leader at the fa­cil­ity, a $3-mil­lion af­ford­able hous­ing pro­ject with 20 units set to be built at Hope Cen­tre’s King Street site was taken off the ta­ble.

There are 427 af­ford­able hous­ing units cur­rently oc­cu­pied in Wel­land through var­i­ous providers and an­other 461 through Ni­a­gara Re­gional Hous­ing (NRH).

A rent sup­ple­ment pro­gram through which ten­ants are sub­si­dized on an in­come-based for­mula ap­plies to peo­ple in 153 units in Wel­land.

The av­er­age wait time for se­niors is five years and six years for sin­gles in a bach­e­lor apart­ment. Peo­ple look­ing for a onebed­room abode could wait up to 15 years and two-bed­room apart­ments for fam­i­lies may not avail­able for 15 years, ac­cord­ing to NRH.

Glen Walker, chair of Ni­a­gara Poverty Re­duc­tion Net­work, says Mustafa’s sit­u­a­tion, sleep­ing on couches with no fixed ad­dress, is some­thing that is plagu­ing peo­ple with fi­nan­cial-re­lated problems — cou­pled with mental health and ad­dic­tion dif­fi­cul­ties — in the re­gion.

“That’s one of the hid­den home­less­ness is­sues we see through­out Ni­a­gara,” he says.

The lack of af­ford­able hous­ing is also some­thing that needs to be ad­dressed through strate­gies formed by the re­gional and lo­cal gov­ern­ments, he feels.

“We see a lot of new res­i­den­tial builds, but where’s the af­ford­able hous­ing piece?” he asks.

Avail­able shel­ters are over ca­pac­ity and mental health and ad­dic­tion pro­grams are “bulging at the seams,” says Walker, also ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Pos­i­tive Liv­ing and co-chair of the Over­dose Preven­tion and Ed­u­ca­tion Net­work of Ni­a­gara.

“I see the amount of peo­ple who need help and sup­port grow­ing. The sit­u­a­tion is not get­ting bet­ter here,” says Walker about Ni­a­gara as a whole.

Wel­land Mayor Frank Campion says camps in pub­lic parks across the city are of­ten found.

When this hap­pens, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity works with lo­cal agen­cies and po­lice to as­sist the peo­ple liv­ing out­doors.

Campion says form­ing a strat­egy to com­bat home­less­ness will be a pri­or­ity this term.

“It’s cer­tainly at the top of the list — af­ford­able hous­ing, home­less­ness as an is­sue,” he says.

The mayor says deal­ing with peo­ple liv­ing on the streets and in se­cluded parts of the city who don’t want to get into af­ford­able hous­ing is also a strug­gle.

“There’s not a sim­ple so­lu­tion and there’s not a sin­gle so­lu­tion.”

Not only have camps been dis­cov­ered on mu­nic­i­pal prop­erty, but also on lands along the canal owned by St. Lawrence Se­away Man­age­ment Corp., says Alv­ina Ghi­rardi, man­ager of re­gional ser­vices for the se­away cor­po­ra­tion.

When this oc­curs, so­cial agen­cies are con­tacted to help get the peo­ple stay­ing there re­lo­cated.

“Hope­fully they are able to get sup­port and more per­ma­nent shel­ter,” says Ghi­rardi, who also says more cases of this seem to take place in Port Col­borne than in Wel­land.

Melissa Kirk­patrick, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Open Arms Mis­sion in Wel­land, says the lack of emer­gency shel­ter in the city has reached cri­sis level.

“Home­less­ness is a ma­jor prob­lem in Wel­land.”

There is no Out of the Cold overnight ac­com­mo­da­tions pro­gram in Wel­land, just in other parts of Ni­a­gara.

Kirk­patrick says Open Arms and other agen­cies, joined by the city and re­gional gov­ern­ments, need to have fur­ther dis­cus­sions on form­ing a plan to ad­dress this se­ri­ous is­sue.

“We’re not sure how that will shape or form, but we do want to be at the ta­ble for that.”

KRIS DUBE THE WEL­LAND TRI­BUNE

Syed Mustafa, 52, re­cently moved into an af­ford­able hous­ing unit in Wel­land through pro­gram­ming of­fered by the Hope Cen­tre.

KRIS DUBE THE WEL­LAND TRI­BUNE

Af­ford­able hous­ing on McLaugh­lin Street in Wel­land.

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