Art + awareness–toward safe affordable housing


I’m thinking about three things for the whole community: accessible mental health care, food security and safe, affordable housing. I’m woefully under-informed in all of these domains, but I’m a pretty good listener. I hit the Outsider Art Show on Sunday afternoon at Kitchener City Hall to learn something and take in some art by artists who have experienced homelessness.

If you need a TL;DR:
1. Support oneROOF helping youth
2. Check out Homeless in Waterloo stories


Here’s Michaela Panchaud, Director of Homeless In Waterloo. Along with her crew, she hosted this show of art. The $4 cover went to oneROOF and any proceeds from the art auction go entirely back to the artist. HiW is not incorporated, but rather an around-the-kitchen-table type of organization: just my style. I saw their stories emerge last year on Facebook, engaging homeless people to tell a fragment of their story. Those stories personalized their plight and made think more about the broader problem. It’s immaterial that this isn’t a novel approach. What matters is that they are *doing* it.


I read recently (and the source escapes me at this late hour) that homelessness isn’t *one* problem; it’s 12 problems. It impacts your health, your ability to get services, your personal safety, your ability to get a job, and on the list goes.


Sometimes homelessness is obvious, but it was something that happened last year that more subtlety hinted at the magnitude of the problem here in Waterloo Region and really put the hook in me. I started to see urban tenting and I don’t mean the backyard-for-fun variety. When I started paying close attention, I noticed tents pitched in the brush of the highway median. I mention that one because a week after I first saw it, a work crew came in and clear cut the whole area, trimming trees high and buzzing long grass down. I was thinking “Man, I can’t believe in this place of so much wealth, we have people out in tents by the off-ramp.” And when I saw that clear cut, it got me wondering if this was coincidental maintenance or an intentional and very effective way of discouraging said camping. Or both.

Aside: oneROOF provides services to youth out of their house at 242 Queen St S in Kitchener. Find all their services here.


I started to see more tents. Along highways and other places where the general public wouldn’t necessarily go and that were partially hidden by scrub bushes and long grass. In some cases the tent was mere steps away from sidewalks. But hidden. Like homelessness can be if we’re not looking for it.


I wanted to photograph the tents and the people living in them to raise awareness, to humanize this problem. But sometimes there are better ways to help than doing a photo essay, which can sometimes have the opposite effect of what you intend. So here I am, talking about this more abstractly and learning more along the way. This isn’t an easy problem to work on, but I do think we have the means to solve it.


I know there have been tent cities set up in Victoria Park to highlight homelessness. And a low-key single tent in a church yard. But it’s these hidden tents to which my mind wanders back.


I’ll keep counting tents.


And I’ll find ways to help organizations like The Working Centre who take a very practical and effective approach to affordable housing.


And when a grassroots group like Homeless in Waterloo puts on something like this, I’ll show up. Shout out to all the people working on the hard problems.


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