‘A Roof Over Your Head’ tackles homelessness

    ANTIGONISH: A year after receiving federal funding through the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS), a local project is aiming to ‘open any door’ in addressing homelessness throughout Antigonish and Guysborough counties.

    A Roof Over Your Head (AROYH), which currently operates as a project under Antigonish Community Transit (ACT), is federally funded through the HPS, and governed by the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS).

    “I think this is where some of that disconnect happens,” Travis DeCoste, AROYH housing support worker said in a phone interview Monday. “Over the past year, the lines have been blurred and has caused a bit of confusion as to who we are and what we have to offer.”

    At AROYH, when an individual presents themselves with issues of housing insecurity, they can offer the support and resources to get an individual from the conditions in which they currently live, to a more permanent, stable environment.

    “We have limited resources to assist with transitional costs, but we have the ability to offer clients support, and getting [them] set up within their home,” DeCoste said. “Whether that’s beeg through partnering with other agencies to assist in things like damage deposits, or setting clients up with groceries, to ensure they have adequate food until we can connect them with other community resources.”

    Being the housing support worker for AROYH, a big part of DeCoste’s position is networking and creating a way to navigate other community resources for the clients he serve, as well as helping bridge the relationship and rapport between clients and other service providers in the surrounding area.

    AROYH serves both Antigonish and Guysborough counties and their hope is to break into the communities of Guysborough County this winter.

    “Whether that’s being through participating in focus groups to getting to know some of the service providing agencies,” DeCoste said. “Some individuals from Guysborough utilize community resources within Antigonish, but it is sometimes more of a challenge to connect with locals within small communities, where individuals may in fact be in need, but having difficulty making contact with these organizations, or knowing that these organizations exist.”

    For DeCoste, it’s been rewarding to create more awareness in the program which helps the clients they serve and the agencies that they currently partner with, or hope to partner with in the future.

    “We can’t look at the issue of housing with blinders on, with a tunnel-vision focus,” he said. “We have to look at housing as being the main issue we’re working to resolve but we have to look at the issues as to what brought an individual to that point of housing insecurity.”

    Homelessness can affect anyone and DeCoste said he’s seen individuals present themselves with mental health concerns that have brought them to the point of housing insecurity, individuals coming from domestic and intimate partner violence situations, individuals battling addiction, and people who are working full-time jobs and doing everything in their power to keep their head above water.

    “With the resources and the programs that we have, our hope is to ensure an individual never has to get the point where they ever reach a point of homelessness, within our system.”

    Since joining AROYH, one of DeCoste’s major accomplishments has been creating a strong partnership with Eastern Mainland Housing Authority (EMHA) and working with them in partnership with Housing Nova Scotia.

    “I’ve been successful in obtaining housing subsidies for some of the clients in which I serve, which aids in creating an easier transition for an individual and it gives them the financial assistance that they need,” DeCoste said. “We need to start looking at the idea of housing insecurity and housing crisis as a community approach.”

    After attending a conference with like-minded professionals of community support work, it was determined projects like AROYH should start operating on an any door is the right door concept.

    If an individual presents themselves with a need and may not necessarily be at the agency which provides that service or can help them with the needs that they present at that time, DeCoste said as service providers and community support workers, they need to take that little extra step to help guide and facilitate them to the proper agency which can serve their needs.

    “If an individual takes the time to come to the door, to ask for the help or stand up and realize they need assistance in solving their problem, we may only have them to come that one time,” DeCoste said. “If they are turned away or aren’t able to be assisted by that agenc,y that may be the last time we’d have the ability to serve the needs of that individual.”

    AROYH is looking forward to the possibility and would love for the future to reach a point where they’re able to offer emergency-based services, and even emergency housing, but that’s just not something that they can offer in the immediate future.

    “I do believe there is a direct need for an emergency-based shelter within Antigonish or Guysborough counties, somewhere centrally located so all within the counties could utilize it,” DeCoste said. “When individuals contact us, presenting issues of homelessness, it’s a very challenging conversation to have because we would obviously love to have the resources in place here in Antigonish or Guysborough counties to offer that but currently we don’t.”

    The closest operational emergency-based shelter is Viola’s Place, located at the former Pentecostal Life Church in New Glasgow and is open from 7 p.m. – 7 a.m.

    For more information on AROYH, contact Travis DeCoste by e-mail at: aroyh17@gmail.com or by phone at (902) 318-8292