Homelessness Maze provides insight into ongoing struggles

Seated in front of those who participated in the Homelessness Maze organized by the House of Lazarus Dundas County Housing Initiative Committee were representatives from a dozen government/social agencies who participated in the end of day debrief for the March 22 Homelessness Maze which took place here in Morrisburg. Eighty participants travelled the town on-foot, in the cold last Friday to put themselves into a homeless scenario to get a glimpse of the barriers faced by those who find themselves, for whatever reason, with no place to live. (The Leader/Comfort photo)

MORRISBURG – I’m ‘Brooke’, a 17 year-old female kicked out of an abusive single parent Chesterville home. I took my cat with me on my way out the door. My father is not in the picture and my mother who kicked me out is emotionally and verbally abusive. I have no relatives or friends to stay with. All this leaves me feeling suicidal. I do go to school at North Dundas District High School and sometimes smoke weed. But right now, I have no money and no place to stay.

I don’t know what to do.

That’s the scenario given to me at last week’s Homeless Maze hosted and organized by the House of Lazarus’ Dundas County Housing Initiative Committee that took place here in Morrisburg.

About a dozen government/social service organizations were set up across three Morrisburg locations for participants to find and gather relevant information/help.

“Events like this help our frontline workers better understand the clients we serve, and our agencies to better understand the added barriers that people experiencing homelessness face, especially in more rural areas,” explained Cathy Ashby of House of Lazarus.

While real-life “Brooke” would have faced all this alone, I was part of a group of three women working together to figure it all out.

Us, as three professionals with decades of experience and knowledge in our various professions, started on our journey perplexed by where to start. We couldn’t even imagine doing this as a 17 year-old. We happened to luck out, as we explored our surroundings at the Legion among the agencies set up there we found Children’s Aid.

Since “Brooke” is 17, surely we would find help there.

The good news was that they could help us. The bad news is we’d have to wait for a worker to get to us, which could take up to 12 hours.

We came up with a plan to meet with the worker at our school which is our only known safe space. Problem. How will “Brooke” get there? NDDHS is literally in the middle of nowhere. We learned quickly getting help was not an easy process.

As Maze participants we found our way to the St. James Anglican Church where we found kind people willing to help, offering food and a place to stay for a night.

Shelter at a hotel for a night, seemed like a wonderful offer for “Brooke”. However, the professionals in the group who work daily with troubled youth and have seen human trafficking and its effects were quick to identify this as a red flag situation for a vulnerable young woman.

Figuring we’d just stay wherever we could on our own for the night, we headed over to The Hub to see if they could help. Offering a tent, a phone, a place to rest, and warm up, The Hub was a wonderful resource. While they offered a lot of information and help, transportation was something they could not offer.

We found food and a backpack filled with necessities at the food bank.

While I was proud of all the help available here in our community, a few hours walking in “Brooke’s” shoes made it clear that there is so much more that needs to be done.

All of the participating agencies were welcoming and empathetic to everyone who approached and seemed to genuinely want to help. Although, through various applications that they needed to adhere to faced barriers in getting timely help for “Brooke”.

“Our systems marginalize certain populations,” observed a participant.

What struck me most was that “Brooke” in asking for help had to re-tell the trauma that she had just experienced, over and over again to every agency that she reached out to.

That constant re-telling of the lived experience was something that weighed heavily on me and the 80 people participating in the various scenarios. The mood during the end of day debrief was palpably hopeless.

“All of these scenarios represent real people who are suffering,” said another participant. “This should be a call to all of us to be the advocates for those who are suffering.”

Looking at the crowd of participants it was clear to me that the room was filled with people who are already working in these circles and are well aware of the situation, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

Randomly, a young participant who joined my table for the debrief, as she was pulling out her chair looked around and said: “Where are the people who make the rules and have the power to change the rules? Where are all the political people? Why aren’t they here? They should be here.”

It’s been said that poverty is a choice – a policy choice.

Sadly the event ended up being a missed opportunity for those in political and government administrative roles to gain important insight.

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