You'll be hearing from them

By Cecilia Nasmith

In light of newly surfacing budget issues and the need they serve, the Transition House Coalition of Northumberland has resolved to establish a higher profile for their work.

Board chair Marsha Jones this week said that changes in the new Federal budget have resulted in an $80,000 gap in their annual funding that has left them scrambling.

The parameters of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy have tightened under the new Federal budget, wherein only the handful of those communities nationwide deemed to be most in need will qualify. It's a prospect they are not at all optimistic about.

Northumberland County has been generous in its support (in terms that must remain confidential), but factoring in the current picture in relation to their operational-funding requirements, they will have to raise $120,000 a year.

The first step, the board has decided, is to increase the profile of Transition House and what it does for the community.

“We know when people are desperate, they behave in way they don't normally. If they don't have a place to lay their head or food in their tummy or clothing, it's so difficult for everybody,” Jones said.

This is an underpinning of the Home First philosophy that is being widely recognized – that whatever problems a homeless person may have (from addiction to mental illness), no significant progress can be made in any of these unless housing of some kind can be found for that person first.

That's very much the philosophy of Transition House, Jones said.

“We have a housing case manager. Every new client, within the first couple of days, works with this person to develop a plan to help them move to permanent housing.”

This may not mean the stereotypical house or apartment, she noted. They work at it from any number of angles, from finding appropriate roommates to advocating for municipalities to remove barriers to allowing more than one family to live in a home (such as encouraging in-law suites or basement apartments).

“And there must be the ability to build tiny homes,” she added, referring to a new solution that is being explored in many communities.

Jones has even heard anecdotally that some people purchase, insulate and outfit some larger garden sheds to stay in while they build a home – perhaps it's an idea that can be expanded upon and adapted for other needs.

“Our staff is amazing,” she said.

They maximize every resource and every donation, working with clients to plan and to find economies.

“When people are treated with respect, it's just amazing how they can move forward in their lives. I have gained a lot more from working with those clients than they have gained from me,” Jones said.

“Some of the experiences those people have had before they encountered this challenge in their lives have just been amazing.”

She referred to their low-barrier threshold. That means they work with their clients with whatever needs they have. Some, for example, have found the ramp and accessible washroom a blessing. Personal Service Workers sometimes attend for clients who need that kind of assistance.

So many shelters will turn away those with substance-abuse issues, but Transition House does not automatically do so. As long as these issues do not affect their safety or that of others (and as long as they do not use on the premises), they will not be turned away.

“It could be any of our children or any of our family,” she said.

“Sometimes when relationships become very difficult, a family cannot manager to have a family member in their household.”

Transition House just returned from a 10-month-long closure in October. Reopening involved reviewing and rewriting all of their policies and procedures, examining staffing requirements, hiring new staff. Jones is very pleased with the results.

“There has been a lot of turnover in staff, but I am very impressed by the staff we have now – their commitment. They have developed a real team, and they listen to the needs of the clients, which is something we may tend not to do for people in a marginalized situation.”

During the closure, the homeless population of the community, unfortunately, gained a higher profile as they could be seen sleeping on the streets and in the backs of stores. There was even anecdotal evidence of increased petty theft. Opening the doors again was not only an important step in helping these people but also a benefit to the broader community.

Sometimes you can measure that in dollars and cents, Jones said. For example, in cases where someone in hospital could be discharged to Transition House, it would save $1,200 a day.

New strategic partnerships are being formed with an eye toward improving service delivery and such opportunities as staff-training resources. And the new board is full of dedicated people who have a wonderful variety of skills and gifts. Unfortunately, Jones said, not many of them have much experience in fundraising. Nevertheless, as they work on a plan to raise the profile of the agency, some fundraising initiatives must be organized.

As the population of Northumberland County is well in excess of 60,000, Jones said wistfully, the future would be brighter if they could get every resident to donate as little as $2 a year.

With her own birthday approaching, Jones is marking the occasion with a Facebook fundraiser. Her goal was $250 but, to date, she has brought in $345.

And until some fundraising gets organized, she added, all donations are gratefully received. Drop them off in person at Transition House (10 Chapel St., Cobourg) or mail them in.

It's a good cause, she stressed.

“Providing a safe place for a person to stay is a reasonable goal within our community, and we are certainly trying to do it in an economical way.”