Log In

Reset Password

Cooper: need of ‘hidden homeless’ for affordable shelter

Sheelagh Cooper is the chair of the board of Habitat for Humanity of Bermuda (File photograph)

Mothers with children, who make up the majority of Bermuda’s “hidden homeless”, need to be prioritised for the affordable housing options under development, a social activist told The Royal Gazette.

Sheelagh Cooper warned that “far too many children” fall into this category of the unsheltered population.

She highlighted the loss of accommodation to holiday rentals even as stakeholders tackling homelessness restore buildings, particularly small homes, to provide affordable shelter.

Ms Cooper explained: “These families are difficult to enumerate because they are carefully living under the radar, afraid of having their children taken into foster care, as homelessness is very often confused as ‘neglect’ by the authorities.”

She added: “While it is obvious to those of us frequenting Hamilton that there is a considerable unhoused population of single individuals sleeping rough, considerable efforts continue to be made to house that population.”

Ms Cooper said the hidden group “remain for the most part unaddressed”.

She said that while a significant portion of those most evident on the streets were homeless by choice, “the mothers and children are not”.

Ms Cooper commended the charity Home for doing “a tremendous job of highlighting the problem of homelessness in our community”.

“They have published an excellent analysis of the problem, along with a multifaceted and prescriptive approach to solving the problem.

“One thing is clear, the solutions lie well beyond the scope of government to provide.”

Ending homelessness

The Royal Gazette, in conjunction with stakeholders including Home, has launched its Ending Homelessness campaign to remind the community that the homeless matter.

Home, and others, want to end homelessness. So do we. We want your support. We want you to change your perception of the homeless. We want you to help lobby for simple changes. We want you to show compassion.

Homeless people want to work so that they can be self-sufficient. They did not choose to be homeless and in many cases their plight was brought about by systemic failings in this country.

Ms Cooper said that under Home’s definition of homelessness, as mentioned in its most recent annual report, the hidden homeless are classed as individuals or families who are “couch surfing” or constantly having to move from friend to relative — or finding accommodation with multiple families in single dwellings.

She said “at the heart of this problem is quite simply the lack of affordable housing”.

“More specifically, it is the lack of affordable housing that is available to mothers and children at the bottom quartile of the population”.

Ms Cooper, who chairs the board of Habitat for Humanity of Bermuda, said the charity often encountered families looking for a roof over their heads.

She added: “Even those with sufficient income continue to be turned away in favour of the more lucrative opportunities presented by Airbnb opportunities.

“This decision by landlords is understandable — but has had a devastating impact on the affordable housing stock.”

To this end, she said Habitat for Humanity’s focus has been on “contributing to the affordable housing stock”.

The charity has been rehabilitating derelict properties to render them fit for living again, or repurpose them to house underserved populations.

Ms Cooper noted: “It is widely known that Bermuda is awash with derelict properties. The Government alone, according to a recent survey, is sitting on 38 of them.”

Habitat for Humanity has taken on several projects addressing the housing shortage in recent years.

The charity repurposed the Pembroke Rest Home to what is now the Transformational Living Centre for Families. It is a residence for as many as ten families, mainly single mothers with up to ten children.

The project marked collaboration between the charity, the Women’s Resource Centre and the Pembroke Parish Council.

The charity recently completed the renovation of the St James Rectory in Somerset into a residential treatment centre to house patients transitioning out of the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute.

The project was another collaboration in which Habitat partnered with the St James Anglican Church and the Bermuda Hospitals Board.

Ms Cooper said: “These larger projects are significant. But ironically, it is the many and varied smaller housing projects that have most profoundly impacted the actual supply of adequate affordable housing for families.”

She said that in 2022, Habitat for Humanity completed a record 24 derelict home rehabilitation projects.

The charity typically undertakes 15 rehabilitation projects annually.

Ms Cooper explained: “Most of these projects involve roof and floor repair, door and window replacement and often kitchen and bathroom repair.

“Often multiple families occupy these derelict homes and, without exception, lack the funds to repair them.”

She added: “While this enhances quality of life for many families whose homes we have rehabilitated, it does little to add to the affordable housing stock for families”.

She said Habitat for Humanity is carrying out research on “tiny homes” to continue its mandate of assisting those in need.

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published May 09, 2024 at 7:58 am (Updated May 09, 2024 at 7:53 am)

Cooper: need of ‘hidden homeless’ for affordable shelter

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon