We're trying really hard this month to help people find accommodations outside of the shelter system. We've been filling up every single night and turning away more and more people as the weather gets colder. What's the problem? People don't seem to want to find housing, they call the shelter their home, and have absolutely no desire to leave it. The number one reason? Safety. And it's very understandable.
For most of us, it's hard to picture why anyone would want to live in a homeless shelter, especially one like the one I work at. It's not exactly the nicest place to spend the night. A mat on the floor, right next to the people on either side of you, bathrooms with no locks, people drinking mouthwash in the backroom (yet we never seem to catch them in the act), scabies, lice, urine, feces, tb, hiv, dirt, crumbs, yuckiness, and yet, this is home.
The thing is though, many of the people have lived through hell all ready. They've been in residential schools, abusive alcoholic homes, foster care group homes, nights spent literally on the street. We have a safe, loving environment, we're consistent, we have clear rules and expectations, there's always food and water, someone to talk to, friends nearby and a ride to the hospital when they need that extra bit of caring we can't provide.
Low income housing can be scary, dangerous, and well, a lot dirtier then the shelter which gets disinfected twice a day. The going rate for housing on welfare is laughable. There is NO way to get anything for that amount of money other then a monthly rate in a hotel room where you have to share a bathroom and have no kitchen. These hotels survive entirely on welfare customers who have no where else to turn and get away with A LOT. And they can evict a person with no ramifications because there are always more where that person came from!
The other kind of housing which can be found are rooming houses and apartments run by slum lords. To live in one of these kind of places, a person either has to be part of a couple, or take from other parts of the welfare budge to make the rent, and on a small budget, 75 dollars taken away from food is a lot of money. These rooming houses are often crack dens, a crash spots for people sleeping off their night of partying. Again, there are shared bathrooms and either a shared kitchen or no kitchen at all. In some of them, you actually have to share a room. Apartments are often poorly or not heated, have no functioning appliances, roaches, bedbugs, mice, rats, and filth.
So, when a person says they feel safer and better sleeping at the shelter, I really can't blame them. It's hard, but I don't think in my city we'll be able to get people off the streets until we create somewhere better for them to go to. Finding a "place" is one thing, finding somewhere to call home is very different.