VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – There are thousands of homeless people all around you and you may never see them.
During Homelessness Action Week, News1130 is focusing on the 80 per cent of people with no fixed address who do not live on the street.
The “invisible homeless” find shelter in church basements, in their cars, or on the couches of friends and family. It is estimated there are more than 10,000 people forced to live that way across Metro Vancouver, including “Trevor” and his fiance.
Both are educated professionals who, through a series of unfortunate events, lost everything.
“I took over a computer store for one year and tried to maintain the store while my business partner was up to his ears in debt. We just couldn’t hold on any longer and lost a ton of money,” he tells News1130.
“One thing led to another and we ended up in the shelter system. I now live with my fiance, who has medical issues, in a trailer with no heat and no plumbing. [We've been] trying to get jobs… we just can’t seem to catch a break.”
Trevor, who doesn’t want people to know his real name, says it happened in a matter of months and is stunned at the challenges having no address presents.
“We’ve had to be extremely creative. I’ve been using a previous address for employment purposes. I’ve had to turn down jobs in the IT sector where I’d be working from home because it just wouldn’t be feasible at this point. If you want to get credit or anything else… really, you can’t survive without an address. There are all kinds of roadblocks that compound the problems of our situation.”
Trevor says dealing with the label of “homeless” has also been difficult.
“There are really blatant stereotypes of what homelessness is. The amount of ignorance some people can convey is incredible. The line between us and being literally homeless, on the street, is very thin. I’m blown away by how many people have preconceived notions and misconceptions about what homelessness really is and who the homeless really are. People really need to be educated. Not all homeless people have addiction issues or criminal records; quite a few homeless people are quite educated and experienced.”
Trevor says his dealings with the shelter system before ending up in his travel trailer have been eye-opening.
“We’re still trying to get over our experience in our heads. The other sad reality with homelessness is [shelters] paint everyone with the same brush. We see the same people cycling through over and over again, we see people abusing all the services provided to the homeless and there’s not much to go around. It makes things even more awkward for us to get out of our situation.”
Trevor feels blind-sided by his experiences over the last few months, and has trouble finding words to describe how quickly his descent happened.
“In a nutshell, you have people out there who don’t have criminal records, who don’t have addictions, who are educated and are homeless. That is the new face of homelessness in Canada.”
Trevor believes programs and services for the homeless need to reflect a new reality, separating those who have addictions and other problems from those who find themselves in shelters purely because of financial issues.
Organizers of Homelessness Action Week in Metro Vancouver are pushing for long-term solutions to ensure there is adequate affordable housing for everyone.