The past number of months has been a rough stretch for those in the Brandon Habitat for Humanity community.
The demise of the local chapter came at a time when the crunch for affordable housing options is on an ever steady climb in Brandon and the change of season increases the burden for those less fortunate in our city.
A quote taken from their website provides the Coles notes version of the program and the vision for their role in the various places they call home "Habitat for Humanity Canada is committed to helping low income families caught in the vicious cycle of poverty."
Poverty, although often quiet, is a very realistic problem in our community. The visible signs of poverty in Brandon may not be as easily recognized as it is in larger centres.
For the most part, we don’t see the stereotypical homeless person on the street, in the parks, in lobbies or shelters but more so the effect of poverty in Brandon creates a society of residents living a transient nightly existence as perpetual couch surfers in homes of friends, relatives or members of the faith community helping keep the homeless away from the elements on a nightly basis. The result of which gives the illusion of homelessness not being a problem in our community.
This very poverty is realistic though, it is tangible and people are left without a home now and in the future as a result of a decision-making process.
As reported in the Sun last week, our local Habitat for Humanity chapter has lost its tie to their national parent group. Our Habitat chapter has been at it since 1995, responsible for the construction of 22 homes throughout Brandon and 14 suites in the newly refurbished Massey Manor project under the dedication of a longtime volunteer base led by former chair Arnold Grambo, at the helm for more than a decade.
Since the local chapter was disaffiliated, volunteers have been left trying to pick up the pieces while sizing up what the move meant to the local community.
Habitat was an integral piece of a broader strategy looking at homeless and marginalized people in Brandon. This move, however short term a national office would lead us to believe, is now a realistic fear for this community moving forward.
As we move into the coldest part of our year and an ever shrinking supply of affordable housing opportunities, where do we go from here? It begs the question — what’s next for this section of our society and who if anyone will pick up the pieces?
In a time when programs like the provincial shelter allowance have not seen any significant change or growth for over a decade, how are those who are "just shy" of getting by able to make a go of it? This is where the Habitat housing option has seen its place in the world, it gave hope to those with a commitment and a will to better themselves a chance, while not relying merely on handouts the program built on sweat equity investments, help from friends, family or volunteers, many of which the benefactors may never have met.
By the national offices disaffiliating the program, they whittle away at the base Habitat has developed in the community and cause alarm and anger as exhibited by the volunteers over the past number of weeks.
If management, feasibility or the minimum standards were the problem that had come in to question, there are ways to better equip members to deal with situations such as was present in the Brandon scenario.
Allowing for the eventual fallout to be minimal and providing the opportunity to keep your base from becoming disenfranchised by the national chapter, a key benefit of such a strategy.
Even if Habitat for Humanity does reach out to the Brandon community to open a new chapter in the future, the black eye still exists and many would be hesitant to attach their name to particular projects due to the optics of their decision, perceived or realistic.
It cripples future generations from finding success through the program and it creates a cause for concern for those who may be associated with a new chapter in the future.
Prudence and fiscal management are keys to stable business, but for people who consistently draw on a strong volunteer base, this may be a decision that changes the ability they have to find future success. It changes the game and limits their possibilities; tragically it is the benefactors of the program who suffer in the process.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is no chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city’s dowtown development corporation. His column appears regularly.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 27, 2012