Opinion Column

Homelessness a vicious cycle: ROOT ISSUES

By Erich Jacoby-Hawkins



Homelessness is a complicated issue, and generally there are many contributing factors.


The biggest complication is that often the thing that triggers loss of housing, whether income, mental-health or substance abuse problems, is worsened by being homeless, creating a vicious circle that seems to defy solution.

This week, I’m going to write about the plight of a single individual, Kenny, to help illustrate the problem.

It’s a real case, in need of some real local heroes to help solve it, so if you find yourself moved by this account, please reach out and make contact. You could be the missing key to solving this crisis.

Kenny, in his mid-20s but mentally somewhat younger, suffers from a profound case of Tourette syndrome, which causes him not only to shout inappropriate or rude things uncontrollably, but also to strike out at his surroundings.

And Kenny isn’t small; he’s a strapping lad, which means everything around him has to be “Kenny-strong,” as in strong enough to withstand his outbursts. Punching through drywall or breaking dishes is all too common in Kenny’s world.

The good news is he is in contact with local supports and treatment exists to help calm these outbursts and tone down the tics, and would help him integrate more successfully with society.

The bad news is his precarious housing situation prevents him from fully accessing these treatments, and exacerbates his tics. So he’s in a kind of Catch-22: his symptoms keep getting him kicked out, which only worsens them and makes him harder to treat or live with.

His father lives in South America and his mother doesn’t have housing of her own, so he doesn’t have a family support structure to fall back on.

Not long ago, he ended up living in a tent in a local field, after being evicted and denied access to various local shelters whose operators or other residents can’t handle Kenny’s needs and outbursts.

Finally, on a day when tornadoes threatened his field, a local family reached out to let him into their home.

They have graciously made room for him among their own four children, three of whom also have varying degrees of Tourette’s (but none as profound as Kenny’s). But his presence is very stressful to their family routine so a better solution for him needs to be found very soon.

The ideal answer would be a winterized trailer or a “garden suite” in a backyard where he could live on his own, not disturb neighbours and not get evicted because of symptoms that he can’t help.

A “tiny home” on an existing residential property would meet zoning requirements, and the family currently hosting him is even willing to locate it in their yard. However, they don’t have the funding to buy or build such a structure, including the necessary hook-ups.

If the local community can come together to install a small but “Kenny-strong” little home in the backyard, Kenny will be able to access all the supports and treatment he needs, but can’t readily access while he’s not securely housed.

What do you think, can our growing and prosperous community find a way to enable the solution to Kenny’s woes this year, before the clock runs out on his current housing?

If you’d like to be part of that, please contact joannbrittain@hotmail.com.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins serves on the boards of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation. Read and comment on this and other Root Issues at www.erichthegreen.ca

Featured Businesses

Go to the Marketplace »