Safe housing created for homeless families

Charity leaders believe they have found a property that could house “invisible” homeless families, it was revealed yesterday.

Habitat for Humanity of Bermuda and the Women’s Resource Centre said their project would also provide mothers with support and training to help move them on in their lives.

The move came after a think-tank last April that involved several organisations found that there was an average of 66 appeals for housing every month.

A spokeswoman for the two charities said: “The number included single men and women and families, but as a group we recognised that the most desperate and underserved homeless population are mothers and children.

“While single homeless individuals are more visible to the community, families without housing are often ‘invisible’ to public consciousness.”

She added: “It was also determined that the demand far outweighs the current supply of housing for the homeless of Bermuda.”

Sheelagh Cooper, the chairwoman of Habitat for Humanity, said: “We often are called upon to renovate derelict apartments only to discover that there are maybe three families sharing a small and totally inadequate space.

“Effectively two of those families are homeless.

“They are not on the street but they do not have an adequate place of their own.

Ms Cooper, a veteran of nearly 40 years of advocating for families, added: “These arrangements understandably are not sustainable and these families are constantly on the move when crowded conditions result in strained relationships.

“The impact of constant moving and housing insecurity on mothers, and even more so on the children in these families, is devastating.”

The plan to tackle the problem was developed after the two charities set up a steering committee that included three mothers who had been or are homeless.

Elaine Butterfield, the executive director of the WRC, said a programme called Transformational Support Services will make sure that women and their families who have fallen on hard times “not only have a hand out, but a hand up”.

She explained that the scheme will include assistance with life skills, academic training — such as job and employability coaching — as well as ongoing support and help to move on.

The services will be based on the needs of each individual or family and will be provided by a range of agencies.

Ms Butterfield said: “The overall objective of the programme is for participants to leave the programme possessing the tools needed to lead more sustainable lives.

“Ultimately, the programme will address not only housing, but support, healing and empowerment that would enable them to support and sustain their families with a renewed sense of self-assurance.”

The pair added: “Our next step was to find a location that could house as many families as possible while still providing a nurturing environment with lots of space for children and accessible to schools and work opportunities.”

Ms Butterfield and Ms Cooper said that they had found a suitable property in the central parishes and that they hoped to make a further announcement later this month “once all arrangements have been completed”.

The WRC and Habitat backed concerns raised in The Royal Gazette last week by Martha Dismont, the chief executive of Family Centre, who feared that the island’s high cost of living meant hundreds of people were homeless or lacked the means to “survive normally”.

Ms Dismont said that increased homelessness has led to more people squatting or living on a temporary basis with friends or family.

She highlighted the case of a mother of three whose family faced eviction from their home for non-payment of rent but had not been able to find alternative accommodation.

Gina Spence, a prominent community activist, agreed there had been a rise in homelessness and warned that former foster children were among those most at risk.

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