When the Streets are Safer than Affordable Housing

Homelessness andAffordable Housing (2)“Honestly, sometimes it was easier living on the streets”

You may be surprised to learn that I have heard this been said many times. Today, it was said by Sarah – a young person in our art program.

Up until a couple of years ago, Sarah was living on the streets and things were rough. But that all changed when she discovered she was pregnant. She and her partner made the decision to raise their child. They searched for housing and eventually found something affordable with a landlord willing to rent to them.

Since then, both of them have changed their lives dramatically and they put their child first.  They are the thoughtful, dedicated and loving parents to a one year old. They are also working hard to complete their schooling, and both are involved with community advocacy.

But it did not take long for there to be issues with their apartment. Issues like it being unbearably cold in the winter, extremely hot in the summer, serious pest issues and much needed repairs, including water damage, being ignored by both the landlord and bylaw. The apartment does not feel safe and causes the new family endless stress. 

“Things are supposed to be easier when you get housing.” Sarah told me, looking completely worn out.

But the truth is – there may be “affordable” housing in Ottawa – but it is not always safe. So families like Sarah’s, who have no other option but to live in this housing, are victimized by landlords.

Sarah and her partner have been trying for months to find a better apartment. But their limited income, combined with prejudiced landlords who refuse to rent to them make it nearly impossible to find adequate housing. They need a break.

Until then, it is Sarah and her partner’s resilience and resourcefulness that make me confident that they will persevere. But I can’t help but feel angry at the system that keeps them victimized, even in housing.

The old couch in the art room

In the art room there was an old couch that we were going to throw away. It was stained and falling apart and we didn’t really need it anymore.

But we never got around to throwing it away so it just sat in the corner of the art room.

No one ever used the old couch, unless they were really upset and needed to speak privately with someone. Unintentionally, it became the place where youth would sit with volunteers and, sometimes, cry and pour their hearts out.

I can remember many conversations on that couch. Comforting many young people as they cried about something that was going on in their lives. Something that would often happen as I sat on the couch comforting a youth is that the other youth in the program, one by one, would come by the couch and offer a kind word, hug or smile to the youth who was upset. Sometimes they would say “I’ve been there man” or “I’m here for you” or they would offer the loving gesture of a cigarette.

That old couch, as dilapidated as it was, became a safe space where tears were shed, trust was built and people were loved.

-Moira, Staff


30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless.