What PATH really wants to do in Peterborough

In response to ‘A failure of our social safety nets’ by Kevin Elson, Peterborough Examiner, Dec. 16
By Sheila Nabigon-Howlett
Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022
Way to go Peterborough! The number of letters to the editor supporting creative, caring and cost-effective solutions to the homelessness crisis far outweighs those stuck in the time-worn thinking of Scrooge-like minds. It’s time to stop insisting “those people” need to “get along with each other,” accept the shelters offered and stop being an eyesore to the city.

Sheila Nabigon-Howlett at protest by Peterborough Action for Tiny Homes
Photo by Cliff Skarskedt of the Peterborough Examiner

PATH understands both “Community First” and “Housing First” philosophies. We all live in community. Some of us have stability with family and friends. Some live tragically with the consequences of societal failures to address gross income inequalities, mental illness, poverty, and addictions.

But they are our neighbours who live on the street and they DO live in community — it’s a tough one, especially in winter. They care and share what little they have. They show resilience way beyond what our middle-class lens can imagine.

That’s why suggestions of putting one or two sleeping cabins on your property doesn’t make sense. That separates people from their community.

PATH proposes to start small with 10-15 sleeping cabins offering wraparound services of mental and physical health care provided by Elizabeth Fry and other agencies; this will be supplemented by caring, competent volunteers trained in “trauma-informed care.”

Community First

The “community first” model recognizes that meeting people where they are at, putting aside stigmatization and offering a hand-up rather than placing coins in an empty cup has a fair chance of catching people when they are ready to access helping, stabilizing programs, before meeting a tragic end.

As Coun. Alex Bierk succinctly put it “corpses do not go to rehab.”

The ultimate aim of PATH is to build a tiny-homes community (or more than one!), supported by a foundation, of up to 50 homes for people who could not otherwise own their own home.

Again, community will be the focus, with job opportunities liaising with the wider community and self-organization at the core. People have an innate need to shape their own lives. Presently social conditions make that near impossible.

Homelessness as a symptom

As Kevin Elson says “No one is choosing to be homeless or addicted to substances, or to suffer from mental illness. The very element of choice itself has been taken away from so many … so let’s be clear, the problem right now is not the homeless as individuals but rather homelessness as a symptom of the failure of our social safety nets.”

Community First shows how marginalized, traumatized people find purpose in life through experiencing genuine love, understanding, acceptance and interdependence. It starts with sleeping cabins and moves on to either tiny-homes-in-community or (truly) affordable housing elsewhere.

PATH is working with the city to start this model pilot project. Mayor Leal, council, staff and members of PATH will find a piece of land in 2023. You can be part of the solution! Donate (private land — YES pleeease!), money through Brock Mission (memo PATH Project) and your expertise and volunteer hours.

Sheila Nabigon-Howlett