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HOMELESSNESS IN PICTOU COUNTY: The view from street level

BEYOND THE NOTEBOOK By Sueann Musick

NEW GLASGOW

It’s been a bit of an emotional week.

There has been praise, criticism, frustration, disappointment and joy. Certainly not your typical days on the job, but considering the kinds of stories we were writing, it was expected.

For the past week, The News had decided to put a face on homelessness. We knew volunteers with Viola’s Place Society were getting close to their deadline to purchase the Life Shelter building and we wanted to find out for ourselves what was happening in our community rather than listening to others say there was or wasn’t a need for such a service.

It has been an eye-opening experience. I was taken on personal tours of spots where people without shelter sleep at night by someone who lived on Pictou County’s streets. I spoke with people who were in the deepest, blackest holes in life and managed to fight their way out of the darkness. I heard stories of family heartbreak and unselfishness from those living with a loved on the streets or those who escaped and still worry about the ones left behind.

We started this series by saying seeing is believing. I saw. I believe. I think others have as well. There are some people you’re never going to convince that this needs to be addressed because they are skeptical of the stories or want cold numbers that would be impossible to provide. The growing numbers at the local food banks and the increasing demand for services from the Salvation Army and churches would be good indicators that people are struggling, but as someone once told me, “You only know what you know.”

So, this is what we know. Volunteers are close to reaching their goal thanks to the help of local municipalities coming on board as well as donations from people, businesses, churches and community groups.

Their future plans have been called “ambitious,” involving much organization and volunteerism to get it off the ground and make it work, but they have faith it can be done. Having a permanent place to call a shelter is a huge first step for the board because now they can focus on getting equipment into the building, lining up volunteers and working on grant money to hire staff. One of those positions could be a community navigator who is a support person for people who want to be helped.

As it was pointed out to us, people can receive social assistance but I have to question how intimidating is that situation to someone who has not had ties to society in months? You only know what you know, so where do you start? A community navigator would speak to landlords who are cautious about renting to people who haven’t had a fixed address in the past or sit with them as support during health, legal or community services appointments.

In Truro, a person working in this role has already helped nine people move from being homeless to having shelter and some financial assistance. Yes, there are services available, but accessing them can be a huge challenge when you only “know what you know.”

People dedicated to helping others have made Roots for Youth, Shepherd’s Lunchroom, food banks and Tearmann House work. They all had to start somewhere and so does Viola’s Place Society.

We are going to wrap up our series with one last story about Margaret. Her story is similar to the rest because she has lived liked George, Crystal, Mary and Cindy. She has little to give anyone but her story, but if it means helping others get the help they need, we are happy to listen.

You only know what you know…. Thanks to our storytellers we now know a lot more.

Sueann Musick is a reporter with The News.

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HOMELESSNESS IN PICTOU COUNTY: Life was good – until it wasn’t

BEYOND THE NOTEBOOK: Homeless shelter can be the starting point

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