Women’s charities call for transitional housing
Abby Jones moved to England with her three children five months ago, looking for a better life. Things didn’t go as planned. The jobs she thought were there didn’t materialise and the relative they moved in with threw them out.
Three months later, the Jones family was back in Bermuda, homeless and jobless.
“Four days after arriving back on Bermuda soil, I went to Financial Assistance for help,” said Ms Jones, who asked that we not use her real name. “They said because I’d been in England, I had to wait a year. What was I supposed to do in the meantime?”
The Bermuda Housing Corporation was an option put forward but she owed them money, she couldn’t go there.
Ms Jones and her children moved into a derelict building, one of many scattered around the island that Habitat for Humanity believes it could make livable at no cost to the owner.
“What we need is affordable housing that is sufficiently subsidised to meet the needs of those who have no income or marginal income,” said the charity’s spokesperson Sheelagh Cooper.
“There are increasing numbers of people who fall into that category.
“There are dozens of derelict buildings owned by the Government — we are aware of at least four or five near our offices on Mount Hill. I absolutely think there are plenty to meet the demand.”
The issue came under the microscope at a think tank Habitat for Humanity held with the Women’s Resource Centre last month.
Representatives from Teen Services, the BHC and the Centre Against Abuse were among the stakeholders involved. The hope is to create a steering committee and put Habitat’s plan into action.
Mrs Cooper said that they have yet to officially approach Government but it’s ultimately the Department of Works and Engineering that will make the decision.
She estimates Habitat receives about five calls a week from women who have nowhere to live. Without a steady income, their options are limited.
While singles have the option of Salvation Army housing, people with families do not and the BHC often doesn’t have an immediate response.
Some move into old cars or, like Ms Jones, abandoned buildings; many drift from family member to family member. Meanwhile, there are others who stay in abusive situations because they don’t have anywhere else to go.
Elaine Butterfield, director of the Women’s Resource Centre, said her organisation also receives calls from people asking for help. Both she and Mrs Cooper believe transitional housing is the answer.
“By transitional housing, we mean where women and children are given a place to reside while they find a job, develop life skills and are able to get back up on their feet and become independent,” she said.
“They need not only a place to stay, but a place where they have support and services and a programme to empower themselves to bring them back to a place where they can sustain themselves.”
Added Mrs Cooper: “A woman who has just run out of her house because her spouse is beating her needs emergency housing, but she might not be able to find somewhere else to go after a couple of months; she may not be able to pay rent for another apartment. She is now in transitional housing.”
The hope is that the woman will find work and move on, but most don’t.
“It’s not that they don’t want to move on,” Mrs Cooper said. “They all most assuredly do. It’s that they can’t afford rents in the community.”
Desiree O’Connor, the BHC support services manager, said they currently have 93 active applications for housing for individuals and families. Thirty applications are for one-bedroom apartments or studios; 42 are for two-bedroom rentals and 21 for three- or four-bedroom homes.
“We have had a handful of people say that they just need housing for the short-term because they are moving overseas, but most people want to be able to settle into a place that they can comfortably call home and are reticent about moving temporarily into a transitional housing setting,” she said. “There is no shortage of housing in Bermuda; there is a shortage of affordable housing.
“When analysing income versus rents demanded, it is obvious that there is a disconnect in what a particular sector of working society can reasonably expect as adequate housing within their monthly wage band. It is not the houses that show up on Bermuda’s real estate listings.”
A 63-year-old said she had to stay in a BHC property for a few years before she was able to find her way 21 years ago.
“Everyone has a right to live comfortably,” the healthcare worker said. “There is enough money circulating. If single parents are not educated we need to make sure their children will be educated so they won’t fall in the same cycle as their parents.
“It is not just about putting people in a house, it’s about educating people. People need a mentor or someone who knows how to survive and knows how to budget. There could be a storm or some other country in turmoil, and look at all that money that comes up. Yet we can’t find a solution for what we are going through. Find solutions for home first. We have to look after our own.”
She feels there are many empty places at Southside, St David’s that could be turned into shelters for homeless people or people struggling with addiction.
According to Mrs Cooper, the think tank was a step in the right direction — and the first time anyone had suggested transforming derelict buildings.
“Maybe the need wasn’t articulated to the same extent,” she said. “We organised this think tank in order to really put Bermuda’s best minds together of people in this sector, and plan our way forward. Representatives from BHC were at the think tank, and they have indicated a willingness to work with us.”
Part of the problem is that the proposed buildings weren’t meant to be used as homes.
“They are government buildings,” she said. “There is a school over in Pembroke; there is the old commissioner’s office building on Happy Valley Road. These are buildings that would have to be transformed into housing.”