Winter is coming. And that means [AW1] Christmas music will soon be playing throughout much of the Third. The holiday season will be upon us, and we will be making plans with family and friends. We will cheer, feast, and jest.
But for some of us, it’s going to be a challenging season unlike any other. As Christian Roach tells us on the pages to come, “Some people living rough are going to be hungry and cold this winter in the CBRM.” That is going to be the reality for us this winter. We will have the largest homeless population in our history.
But even those with homes are struggling to keep them and some parents are feeling financial stress in ways they have never experienced. We know that our food banks and social service agencies are stretched to their max trying to accommodate the people who now need their support.
Every Women’s Centre expects the largest registration in its history for its Christmas Adopt-a-Family program. The Centre expects more than new 150 families – not children – will register for this year’s program.
Joel Inglis below expresses in his political cartoon the sentiment of some in the Third about the province’s commitment to housing development projects outside Halifax. Processes, paperwork, and relationships seem to be preventing some housing developments. The solutions seem easy but the housing is so hard to materialize.
For me, the winter season brings an added stressor. This will be the second winter that I will worry about my students as they travel ‘home’ to Halifax after finishing their classes at CBU.
When I start teaching a course at CBU one of the first questions that I now ask my students is “How many of you live in Halifax?” It’s an absurd question to ask, but I’ve come to learn it’s a relevant one in my classrooms. The next question I ask is “Do you have a place to live?” These are questions I never thought I would ask in my classrooms. They are questions that I should not need to ask in my classrooms.
I currently teach about 60 students, almost half of whom live in Halifax. My classes this term end at 8 p.m. My car has told me several times in the last few days to be cautious of black ice. How long will the odds be on my students’ side? What if one – or some – is injured or there is a tragedy on the highway?
At best, my ‘Halifax students’ make it back by midnight.
Some take taxis to CBU from Halifax twice a week. Others take Maritime Bus and purchase return tickets that are used in one day. But the travel plan that makes my palms sweat the most is students cramming into vehicles to save money and to ensure that no one is left behind without a drive home.
Too many students’ days consist of more than eight hours of daily travel, university classes, and working part-time jobs to pay international tuition fees and the large transportation bills that come with living 400+ km from your university.
Some students with morning classes choose to travel from Halifax the night before and sleep in vehicles in parking lots around the Third or at their friend’s place, but often in CBU’s parking lot for its convenience.
Almost all my students suggest that they have a place to live but that is only because they are forced to find accommodation and work wherever they can find it, regardless of the distance. Gone are the days of students trying to find work in the Third, most now very quickly make the move to Halifax.
Many of the students who do live in the Third ask me almost daily if I know of a place where they can live. Not usually because they are homeless, but because of the condition of their current home or the living situations they endure. They live in homes with mold or that are invested with rodents – or both. Property management companies stuff their houses full of bodies despite their objections.
Some students have asked me for old copies of The Third so they can use them as insulation for their homes during the winter months.
This is living rough. It is true that they are not living in tent communities, as far as I know, but it is not an easy life for them here in the Third.
They are young people new to our community and unfamiliar with the culture, the weather, and sometimes limited in language ability who are not expecting the conditions that they are faced with immediately upon arrival. They do not know where to turn. They do not know who to ask for help. They often solve their problems by collectively planning how they will survive. Yes, survive. It is rough.
It is heartbreaking to see their faces as I tell them I know of no places where they can stay. I know that sometimes the student in front of me doesn’t believe that I don’t know of empty apartments, rooms to rent, or available housing stock. The same is true with employment opportunities. But students new to the Third can’t grasp the magnitude of the situation in which we collectively find ourselves.
It is equally heartbreaking to look into their eyes as I respond to their requests for compassion and understanding with their coursework as they tell me about their hours of travel and the money they are spending daily to get to class.
Winter is coming and things are going to get rough in the Third. And, it is going to be up to us Thirders to do the heavy lifting.
[AW1]Do we need a second "That' there..it doesn't sound right to me