By Sue Tiffin
Andrew Hodson was driving to the Haliburton County Housing Summit looking for answers to further help some of the people he works with as a short-term case manager for Four County Crisis CMHA when he got a phone call.
“On the way here ironically enough on the way to a forum about housing issues in the county I took a phone call from two individuals who are currently living in a trailer and are facing another winter in the worst conditions” he told the Times. “These are people that are very marginalized financially … they’re both struggling in every measure. They’re not the only ones.”
They’re not even the only residents of Haliburton County facing challenges with homelessness who reached out to him that morning.
“I’m sitting here in the seminar and I’m taking texts and phone calls from people in very similar
situations” he said. “It looks different up here. We don’t have the people laying on subway grates
because we don’t have subway lines but it’s people living in cars living in trailers living in tents
couch surfing …”
Hodson said the people he’s working with are “courageous people trying to find really crafty ways
and resilient ways to get by” who both want to stay in the county and have a right to stay in the county.
At the summit a strong message that Haliburton County has a need for affordable housing for people in a broad scope of circumstances looking for homes including young families the elderly people with disabilities and the homeless population was shared. The challenge of finding affordable accessible and appropriate housing was referred to as a crisis one that MC Sue Shikaze noted is “a big issue a complex issue” and one that is occurring across the country.
At a Sept. 25 county council meeting council approved a goal of 750 additional affordable rental
units being created in Haliburton County by 2029.
Despite that win for the community more is needed according to hosts of the summit who filled a room full of organizers local politicians and community members when they held the event on Oct. 18 at the West Guilford Community Centre.
Hope Lee chief executive officer of the Kawartha Lakes Haliburton Housing Corporation and
manager housing services City of Kawartha Lakes presented on the nature of housing issues in
Haliburton County and the work done locally in creating housing developments and improving access to affordable housing and support as well as an overview of how the 10-year target was set.
Bob Carter chairman of the Minden Hills housing task force and also a Minden Hills councillor
spoke to the need for what he calls “appropriate housing.”
He said that includes affordable housing for young families housing for the elderly and housing for those who want to downsize and move into something more manageable possibly in the downtown area – those that don’t qualify for assistance but can’t afford the available housing in the community.
Numerous times he has met with people who are looking to take a job in the community but can’t find a place to live so are forced to either turn down the job offer or tolerate long commutes. He’s also met people living in overcrowded homes living in basements or living in houses that he said should probably be deemed unliveable – but if they are that leaves their occupants with nowhere to go.
“We have a shortage of almost every type of housing in this community save the expensive homes and cottages that are on the lakes” he said.
The community is growing with many retirees renovating their cottages putting an increase on
demands for services by people for whom there are not housing options.
Carter said the most unique thing about the major housing problem in the county is that “it’s
solvable and we know how to do it. We need to build housing. I hate to make it sound that simple but it really is.”
He applauded the work of the Kawartha Lakes Haliburton Housing Corporation and others who have embarked on similar projects but said there isn’t a long line of developers waiting to build in Haliburton County.
“My feeling … if we want this done we’re going to have to do it ourselves. In Haliburton housing is the responsibility of the county but that doesn’t mean the municipalities are off the hook.”
He proposed a call to arms of sorts suggesting that each of the municipalities create a housing task force in order to work together generating potential solutions noting there is funding available but “the resource then that we need the most is dedicated people who want to help solve this problem.”
In a panel moderated by Fay Martin called “Concrete Examples of Housing Models Being
Considered” presenters spoke to unique housing initiatives taking place or potentially available to the community.
After hearing of the need for housing Bill Switzer has donated several acres of land in Minden
partnering with KLHCC and making it possible to build 32 highly energy-efficient units on the
property anticipated by 2022.
Irene Gerber after becoming tuned in to the needs of seniors as her own family aged spoke to the eight-plex project built on Bobcaygeon Road in Minden and announced the building of nine additional units all on one floor to be built in the former Minden Animal Hospital available next year.
Phil McKenzie discussed the 120-unit retirement residence planned to open in late 2020 at 1
Sunnyside Street in Haliburton.
Gord Forbes shared his experiences in creating a secondary suite on his property which created a home suitable for his daughter and her family freed up a property in the county – that otherwise would have been used by his daughter – for someone else and secured his aging in place strategy. He said besides those advantages he gets to see his grandkids come home from school and eat dinner with his family. The secondary suite program offered through the Kawartha Lakes Housing Help team provides homeowners forgivable interest-free loans to assist in the creation of a second unit.
Greg Bishop discussed the student housing project near the Haliburton School of Art +
Design/Fleming College campus designed to address a need for nearby accommodation for students attending classes at those campuses.
Benefits of co-housing and homesharing was addressed by Kristina Nairn HKPR social determinants of health nurse while Sarah Burke from Habitat for Humanity Peterborough and Kawartha Region spoke to the advent of multi-residential projects for the organization including a 41-unit building offering universal design in order to keep up with housing needs. Burke said the organization had homed 38 families in the last 17 years so projects offering so many units at one time were a welcome and much-needed development in the organization’s future.
While much work has been done attendees agreed more was needed especially for the county’s
marginalized population who can sometimes be the “hidden homeless” not necessarily seen struggling in public but relying on couchsurfing and hotels for shelter.
Marilynne Lesperance of the Minden Community Food Centre and Community Kitchen gave insight into the harsh realities of local homelessness and how work at the centre relates to the chronic housing shortage in Haliburton County. She said affordable – but also clean respectable accommodation is needed for people experiencing homelessness which like Hodson she stressed does exist in Haliburton County even if it’s not always seen.
She said the centre is providing plastic sleeping mats to help a young man found sleeping in the
woods so that he isn’t directly on the cold ground. In the morning when Lesperance walks her dog she sees a man sleeping on the tailgate of his truck in a sleeping bag and last winter two separate people living in cardboard reinforced boxes were found on the edge of town.
“The most shocking thing right now is the fact that our food bank has to stock can openers blankets sheets car care kits and toiletries” she told the gathered crowd in a passionate afternoon presentation.
“You may ask why would you stock can openers? We have discovered so many people that are
homeless that they do not have the ability to cook food so we give them canned goods and bread and perhaps a warm blanket to keep warm. [Joanne Barnes MCFC manager] says this is the worst it has ever been in 15 years.”
Lesperance said she has met people who have lost their housing because their landlord went into the Airbnb business and new families coming to the community in response to job ads who can’t find anywhere to live.
“I think one of the hardest situations is seeing new families come into our community excited eager to work because they qualify for the ads they researched online” she said. “Our mayor says that sometimes they have to advertise four times before they get a qualified candidate to fill a job. Well our experience is that these eager new families are able to do the job – but they can’t find anywhere to live with their family. Lots of people come here in the summer and stay at Grandpa’s cottage only to realize that they could not find permanent housing by the wintertime and they pick up and go back home.”
Lesperance said that although she and fellow staff and volunteers hear the general public say “people don’t want to work anymore” she said when golf courses resorts and restaurants open in the spring client numbers drop from 225 families in the winter to 88 in the summer.
“How does this relate to housing read the ads in the paper ‘apartment for rent $1600 per month no kids no pets no smokers’” she said. “If that’s all you can find you are left with less than $600 a month on minimum wage. This has resulted in couch surfing. [Barnes] sees so many people that are living from friend to friend with no stable address. The numbers of people that are in this situation are staggering.”
Breakout sessions in the afternoon brought discussion of retirement homes; small home rental and small home owned; secondary suites; housing task forces and co-housing home sharing.
Speakers also discussed support and funding options available including community bonds.
The event was organized by Aging Well Haliburton County CARP Chapter 54 and Places for People with support from HCDC.