Skip to content

ALEX HOUSE: Housing, Truth & Reconcilliation top of mind this autumn


Heading into fall, there are two types of people – those who can’t wait for a pumpkin spice latte, and those who do not want to see the end of summer.

I am somewhere in the middle. I love the cool, crisp air that moves in during the fall, with sun and showers sharing September. I am especially mindful of the fires in B.C., where the rains will temper and calm. The impact has been devastating for many, especially Indigenous communities that are often remote and hard to service.

The fires remind me of the vulnerability of the unhoused community. Many of the people the people that have lost their homes in the fire never imagined that they would be unhoused. While some have insurance, many will not have adequate coverage, whether they rent or own. For some it will be nearly impossible to get back on their feet.

The only thing that separates me from those who are currently unhoused is a fire, an injury, a health issue, loss of employment, high interest rates etc., the list is a long one. In the ’80s my parents lost their home because interest rates rose to 19 per cent.

I grew up in Burnaby. My parents were blue-collar workers who bought their new home for $32,000 and, like many people, mortgaged it for trips or business endeavours.

My dad was forced to retire at 65 (when that was allowed), so they had no means to ride out the high interest rates. The only difference between them and the unhoused was the little bit of equity that allowed them to downsize and move to Surrey. They bought at a time that home ownership was a real option for many people. Today, for the majority of people the housing market is nearly impossible to enter, and the rental market requires more than 30 per cent of an average person’s income.

I always keep this in the back of my mind, knowing that we don’t always get to control our lives. Sometimes there are challenges at play that have nothing to do with the worth of the individual struggling with their fate.

This fall and winter, unhoused people in our community will need our support. Our colleagues at Sources, Engaged Communities, Options, and local faith groups, all provide a critical service in support of unhoused people in our shared community. Last year proved particularly challenging, with temporary shelters being forced to close because homeowners were impacted by behaviours that were difficult to navigate, impacting people’s “quality of life.”

Who gets to decide what constitutes “quality of life” is subjective. NIMBY – Not In My BackYard surfaces, not because we are uncaring, but because we prioritize our own well-being. What happens if we start to think about the well-being of others alongside our own? It means sacrifices, it means occasional difficulties, and every so often it means someone gets a chance to transform their lives from hopeless to hopeful.

We need solutions, and those solutions will benefit from all of us working towards a healthy and engaged community.

We have great examples in our community of where this has happened - Engaged Communities started a warming/cooling centre in support of unhoused people, the White Rock Pantry Project (find them on Facebook) was created by someone with an idea, while Together-SSWR Virtual Mental Health Hub started by a local psychologist and registered clinical counsellor who wanted to make a difference. These are people in our community who saw a need, and instead of placing blame, looked for a solution. While we still need to be working on systemic change, these acts of reciprocity provide comfort and hope in our community.

• Truth and Reconciliation Day is on Sept. 30, and it is a great time to learn about the calls to action, and see what you can do, as one community member, to learn the Truth, and walk towards Reconciliation. I am grateful for the leadership of Semiahmoo First Nation’s Chief and Council – Chief Harley Chappell, Councillor Joanne Charles, and Councillor Jennine Cook, and their teachings and willingness to guide this work in our community. I am also very grateful for the Semiahmoo community members who have opened their hearts to me, and Alex House.

• Repair Café South Surrey White Rock is another amazing grassroots group who saw too much waste in our world, and started a group to repair appliances, and other things, in order to keep them out of the landfill. They are hosting two Cafés – Monday, Oct. 9 (Thanksgiving Monday), and Sunday, Nov. 26, from 1 to 4 pm at Alex House.

Penny Bradley is executive director of Alex House. She writes monthly for the Peace Arch News.