‘It was eye opening, how many people need help,’ says student volunteer
Shawville, Nov. 1, 2023
Nursing students from the Pontiac Continuing Education Centre (PCEC) in Shawville travelled to Ottawa last month to spend a day volunteering at Shepherds of Good Hope, an organizataion that supports people experiencing homelessness and vulnerable adults.
“As we’re from a small community, I thought that it would be really important that we’re aware of how big an issue the homelessness is right now,” said Jammie-Lee Coursol, one of two clinical instructors from the PCEC that organized the volunteer experience.
Heidi Hall, the other clinical instructor, said the importance of seeing the prevalence of homelessness in local populations is important for young nurses to understand.
“At some point, we might be having them on our doorstep at the hospital,” she said.
“Just because we don’t see the homelessness in the Pontiac, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
A lack of visibility
Many of the nursing student volunteers were shocked at the sheer volume of people that showed up to the shelter.
“I found lots of them were close to my age as well, which was very surprising,” said Kelsy Lepack, one of the student volunteers.
“I’m lucky enough to still be living at home with my parents,” she added.
“I’m very grateful that they did bring us because like I said, lots of people have no idea this is going on and I was lucky enough to see it,” she said.
Coursol estimated that the volunteers helped feed between 150 to 200 people.
“And that was just one meal,” Coursol said.
“That was pretty shocking.”
“It kind of blew me away just how much food we made,” said Kylie Beattie, another of the student volunteers.
“I didn’t expect how many beds they would have,” added Beattie, noting her surprise that the 252 beds the shelter currently offers are not enough to meet the growing need.
Beattie said that the biggest takeaway for her was “just how big the problem of homelessness is, because when you’re living in a small town, you don’t see that.”
“It was really, really eye opening, just how many people need help,” she said.
According to Bernie Forestell, a senior communications manager at SGH, the community kitchen where the students volunteered serves almost 130,000 meals every year.
Outaouais homeless population growing faster than in other regions
The homeless population in the Outaouais region increased by 268 per cent between 2018 and 2022, according to a 2022 report from Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services.
This is the highest overall increase across the province.
In that period, nearly 400 additional people became homeless in the region, since the first time Quebec conducted the survey on homelessness in 2018.
“We [Outaouais] are the worst in Quebec” said Jacinthe Potvin, director of Centre Social Kogaluk, a centre located near Luskville that offers housing to individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Potvin has worked at Centre Social Kogaluk for 23 years, and said the need for support resources is greater than it’s ever been.
“More and more young people, more and more older people, and families are becoming homeless. In our region we have entire families that live in motels,” she said.
“I think that there is a lack of awareness in rural areas, because people don’t see the amount of people living in the streets,” she said.
“[But] homelessness has exploded, and it touches everybody.”
The province’s report found that in 2018, a total of 5,789 people in Quebec were “visibly” homeless, meaning that they did not have a permanent and secure residence and that on the evening the survey was conducted, they were found in a place not designated for human habitation (i.e. a car, doorway, makeshift shelter), or in a temporary resource centre (i.e. a shelter, crisis centre, etc.).
By 2022, the number of visibly homeless had nearly doubled.
According to Potvin, most of the people at Centre Kogaluk suffer from drug addiction, mental illness, alcoholism, and frequently, a mixture of the three.
“We have people helping them with an intervention plan, helping with whatever they want to do in life, [like] go back to school, or go back to work.”
Potvin added that social housing and community supports are key to addressing the exponential growth of Outaouais’ homeless population.
“I’ve seen thousands of people [at Centre Kogaluk] over the years. Thousands,” Potvin said.
“But I’ve also seen miracles happen.”
Additional findings from Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services Report, 2022
- 67 per cent of people experiencing
homelessness in Quebec are men.
- 13 per cent of those surveyed identified as Indigenous — five times more than in the general population.
- Around 16 per cent of those surveyed
identified as LGBTQ+.
- Immigrants represent around 11 per cent of the homelessness population.
- 15 per cent of people who became homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic say it played
a role in their current situation.
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