If anyone wanted to sum up the state of Winnipeg weather this past February, some adjectives that might come to mind are “brutally cold” or “Antarctic.” It was a good month for people to stay at home, enjoying the comfort of central heating, warm blankets, and hot drinks.
But what if someone has no home? This winter, two groups worked separately to highlight the plight of the homeless and to try to educate people about the needs of Canada’s most vulnerable people. Through the University of Winnipeg’s radio station CKUW 95.9 FM and the United Way, people in Winnipeg can learn more about a problem that can often be hidden from sight.
At the U of W, volunteers and staff at CKUW helped put together a documentary revealing the struggles of the homeless, especially in cold cities like Winnipeg. The documentary is part of the Homelessness Marathon, a project that has spread to Canada from its beginnings in Geneva, New York.
The purpose behind the Homelessness Marathon is to highlight issues surrounding housing and homelessness. Submissions to the project are scheduled to air on various news stations throughout the country and will be available online in many cases. In Winnipeg, members of the CKUW news team chose themes, interviewed people, and put together a final piece focused on important themes and issues.
One of the people to take part in the project is a former advertising executive who went from a high-income career to depression and homelessness after losing his job. Although he was able to get help and to move into a new career, his story highlights how easily the comforts of a secure life can disappear when one key element is taken away.
The CKUW documentary looks both at the causes of homelessness and some of the people who are experiencing it.
For its part, the United Way is looking at another aspect of the problem: how many homeless people are currently living in the city?
The question is not as easy to answer as it might seem. At a recent discussion on the subject, a speaker from Edmonton described the difficulty of learning exactly who is homeless without actually going out and talking to the people themselves.
The homeless might have little or no access to technology such as computers and might never read newspapers, listen to radio, or watch television. How can social planners contact them and find out what they need without having personal contact?
Another problem is the definition of homelessness. Only a limited number of homeless people actually live on the streets, while others stay in short-term shelters or with friends, moving around whenever they have overstayed their welcome. Other people might have housing that costs them too large a proportion of their income or is otherwise inadequate.
The United Way’s planned Homelessness Count is only one way for people to get an idea of the extent of the problem. Sometime in May, teams of volunteers will walk the streets of Winnipeg, asking people where they slept the previous night in an attempt to get a better idea of the scope of Winnipeg’s homeless population. The method might be somewhat inadequate as a scientific tool, but the best way to learn about an issue is often from the people who are experiencing it.
Homelessness is a huge, ongoing problem, but awareness of the issue is often the first step towards helping solve it. If you want to help alleviate the problem, why not get involved?