- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

Ray Botten's sidewalk campers are not the only faces of homelessness in Owen Sound.
While they continue to occupy their piece of 2nd Avenue, hundreds of others are looking for secure housing they can afford.

Every one of these people in crisis has a story that is their own to tell, but we have been asked to tell you one.

Mr. and Mrs. and their baby have been homeless since June 2. They and their two elderly cats have been living in a local motel since they were evicted from the Owen Sound apartment where they had been living for most of three years. The landlord's claim, successfully defended at the Landlord and Tenant Board, was that the family was "causing willful damage, the cats' litter boxes were smelly, and that they were threatening the other tenants." There was no issue of non-payment of rent, or violence, or drugs.

"It was a legal eviction, which we do not dispute," says Mrs. "And are glad we are free of that place." However she believes that the facts were misrepresented to get them out, and that story has spread among rental agents.
They have been looking since early April, and every landlord turns them down.

Local landlords admit they have far more applicants than units available, so they can be as selective as the law allows.

The family has received some assistance - a Sustainable Housing benefit through Grey County and help from Y Housing - but they remain homeless.

An elected representative from the City of Owen Sound came to see the family and they allowed themselves to hope until they received the following email:

"I have been to rental offices and no one seems to want to rent to you. I did not ask why and it is not my business. I think your only chance is to get a paper and look for an apartment. I will keep looking and if I hear anything I will email you. Good luck."

Mr. has been on disability pension (ODSP) since 2002 when he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. The mixed-race couple met in 2006, and their "Angel" is now 20 months old. Mrs. worked hard to keep her husband well enough to keep him out of the hospital. She has worked in Owen Sound, but was let go unexpectedly.

When I asked for permission to share their story, Mrs. said "We debated that for a bit and we agree that it does need to be told. There are a lot of stories that are not told and people get neglected because of it, or don't know if they can do anything."
"We have nothing to hide. Our past is something we lived through and now we have to move on. We have a little Angel to raise."

While we celebrate the opening of 28 units of affordable housing at Odawa Heights in the north-east corner of the city, they will remove less than 4 percent from Grey County's 843-name waiting list.

Mr. and Mrs. and Angel are on that list, paying for a motel room, trying to figure out how they would find a $1,162.24 deposit if they were to be offered an apartment for August.

"Now we aren't sure if we should leave town or not. We don't really have much, and no vehicle, plus everyone we know is here in Owen Sound. But we cannot get a place to live and we have a toddler who needs a home."

UPDATE: This family has motel accommodation in a neighbouring municipality for July, and an apartment for the first of August.

We still have a challenge with low availability of rental housing in the City, higher seasonal rates for short-term accommodation, and the on-going issue of the "hard to house" - people who have burned some bridges and do not have support workers or family.
Will this be an election issue?

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