“Forever” Homes

Like so many during this long COVID period, I have found refuge in HGTV shows where older homes, often unfit for occupation, are snapped up, made over and sold for not-too-shabby profits. (I’m convinced that on many of these shows — and there are new ones sprouting seemingly daily — a wrecking crew is first sent in to do the damage that makes some of the houses look like dumps. Bathrooms, especially, are often pictured as filthy.)

The renovating duos (usually a husband and wife team) don their work gear (which for some of the women seems to involve high fashion), take up sledge hammers and make at least one attack on the walls (always after checking that they are not “load-bearing”) before proceeding to “rip her apart,” spending copious amounts of moolah and eventually displaying houses that are “staged’ to the hilt and sold off to the highest bidder as a “forever home.”

HGTV's Hidden Potential

HGTV’s Hidden Potential

Having watched way too many such shows recently, I have come to the conclusion that, for someone without a home or living in less-than-adequate housing or — let’s face it — your average viewer, these shows can be soul-destroying.

Watching them ripping out kitchen cupboards that would be considered luxurious by some less fortunate beings and heaving furniture that just doesn’t go with their color scheme into dumpsters, has made me think that much of what they discard could be donated to people who could use it — perhaps groups repairing and furnishing homes for the homeless.

I assume the buyers are actors, actors who pay their parts to the hilt, The wife who walks into a fairly nice kitchen and announces that it will have to be totally redone, with high-end counters and cupboards, new flooring, new appliances, not to mention tearing down a wall so that she can watch the kids as she cooks supper. Money is no object, and even on shows where the owners have a stated budget, it’s nothing for them to come up with an extra $10,000 to add a closet for her shoes or a man cave for his 67-inch TV. I’ve been told that, on those shows where the buyers go through the process of viewing three homes and choosing their favorite, the show is “fake news” as the buyers will have weighed the pros and cons of each offering and made their purchase before the cameras even started to roll.

 

If these shows seem like fairy tales to me (which they do) what must they seem like to people living in squalid conditions? People who feel lucky just to put food on the table? We are all aware of the lack of affordable housing in our community, in our province, and across our country. We know there are people sleeping on the street in freezing temperatures right here in CBRM — we had a reminder just this week from South Bar’s Rod Gale:


And while good people everywhere are working to push governments, provincially and federally, to build affordable housing, far too many of our fellow citizens live from one social assistance check or paycheck to the next. If they do have a job, there’s a good chance it pays minimum wage.

On Sunday morning, I took note of a CBC Halifax story, by reporter Elizabeth Chiu, about a former roof repair man (Paul), who was living rough and sleeping in and on a huge piece of plastic (that creaked all through the night). Paul had been provided with a 6×8 foot, insulated shed in Dartmouth and he was overjoyed, although one hopes this won’t be his “forever home.”

“Four walls and a floor and a roof, and it’s warm in there,” said Paul, 49. “It’s secure, it’s home.”

Writes Chiu:

There’s no kitchen, bathroom, electricity, heat or plumbing, but it’s dry and sturdy. There’s just enough space to sleep, with two small rattan trunks and a tote box nearby serving as a pantry, seating and clothes storage. The shelter is also outfitted with a smoke and carbon monoxide detector.

Paul, with the help of his street navigator, a city-funded outreach worker, is applying for a social assistance check for $535, his first in three years.

Well-meaning, anonymous members of Halifax Mutual Aid have provided this shelter for him in a wooded area, (on municipal property), and, as one would expect, some neighbors complained. But the police, when they arrived, found there was “no law being broken,” and Paul took up residence. Mind you, a residence without water or lights, which means finding a bathroom somewhere in the vicinity where he can fill a basin with enough water for a wash.

Another “shed home” was built and quickly occupied, raising concerns that an “encampment” (has this become a synonym for “neighborhood?”) might be established which would mean homeless citizens living in tents or other even less desirable shelters.

On Monday morning, after some mixed messages as to whether such sheds would be removed or not, HRM issued a statement saying, in part:

The municipality is aware of the installation, by Halifax Mutual Aid, of two temporary shelters on municipal property in Dartmouth. As per our established protocol, individuals experiencing homelessness will not be evicted while we seek to identify alternate options for adequate housing. While the installation of structures, including temporary shelters, on municipal property is not permitted without approval, the municipality aims to work with Halifax Mutual Aid to identify alternate options for those experiencing homelessness. By working together on our common goal to address homelessness we are confident that solutions can be identified in the short-term and the long-term.

 

As well intentioned as this act of kindness was (and the group intends to build six more such shelters) is this the best human beings can expect when they find themselves in dire circumstances beyond their control?

Why sheds, when municipalities are selling off abandoned homes and buildings regularly in tax sales? Why couldn’t municipalities take ownership of such places, bring them up to code and make them available to people like the gentleman mentioned above? (Yes, it would take money — but Halifax managed to attract federal funds for affordable housing projects, why can’t the CBRM?)

Halifax Mutual Aid shed

Halifax Mutual Aid shed (Twitter photo)

Another solution might be to demand that developers be required to include quality, affordable housing units in their developments as a condition of receiving planning permission and permits — with rents that make them accessible to those on fixed incomes, including what passes for social assistance in this province.

Homelessness has been a common topic of concern lately, especially during these COVID times, the hope being that all levels of government will take serious steps to alleviate what so many are experiencing each and every day of their lives. A guaranteed annual income (GAI) has been discussed by various groups and advocates for years and if now is not the time to make it a reality, will there ever be such a time?

Will 2021 be the year when the voices of the poor are finally heard?

 

 

 

Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.