Groups work to shed light on West Island's 'hidden homeless' problem
Published Sunday, June 1, 2014 1:42PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 2, 2014 8:00AM EDT
It’s an issue many associate with urban environments rather than the suburbs.
Rising food and housing costs and a lack of jobs - among other reasons - have created what's called ‘hidden homelessness,’ a problem that's growing in the West Island.
There’s where AJOI comes in. Called Action jeunesse de l'Ouest de l'ile, the organization is working to find and help young people at risk.
Bobby is one of those people.
After losing his apartment, he had been hovering close to homelessness for a year, couch surfing until he had nowhere to go.
“I never slept on a bench but to have the idea that I have nowhere to sleep, that's what I lived,” he said.
A youth worker he'd seen on his street directed him to help.
Today he has a home and a job, thanks to the help of AJOI.
The group’s success is in going to where young people are, explained AJOI director Benoit Langevin.In suburbia that means malls, parks and bus stops.
Still, their biggest challenge is convincing people there's a problem, said Langevin.
“There's a distortion between the image we have of family in the West Island and the reality that we at AJOI see. And by what the youth are telling us, there needs to be changes,” he said.
Lurking in the leafy neighbourhoods, he says some families are one paycheque away from homelessness.
Kids are especially affected by the instability.
“Youth were saying, ‘We have empty houses. Our parents are working two jobs and they're never home.’ How do you build a foundation and self-esteem?” he said.
Because their work is prevention, Langevin says it's hard to get financial support.
To do so, they've joined forces with other community organizations in the neighbourhood, some of which are also struggling, like On Rock Community Services, serving food to people living with poverty in Montreal.
“Before christmas we were feeding about 175 families. Today we're feeding 200. The need just seem to be growing in the West Island and it's not people who've been poor their whole lives. We've seen a big growth in the working poor,” said On Rock’s founder Kim Reid.
The On Rock food bank shelves are in need of restocking, a visible sign of the so-called invisible poor.
Physical support matters, but Bobby also says the emotional support he received from AJOI helped him.
“They help you like a friend. Not like a social worker who doesn't have the heart,” he said.
And even if people don't associate the West Island with homelessness, Langevin said they'll continue to work in their neighbourhood to find people in need before they fall.