The Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS) Interact club wants the community’s help coming up with potential solutions for homelessness in the County.

The group, in association with Haliburton Rotary, held a homelessness awareness event May 31 at Stuart W. Baker Elementary School. It was the final gathering of the current school year for Interact, whose mandate is to take action and try to influence change in our communities.

Co-club president, Annabelle Borgdorff, said Interact has been wanting to host an event focused on homelessness – the issues we’re seeing, and not seeing, in the County and how to best address them – for several years, but noted with the worsening economic climate it had become more of a focus in recent months.

She said hosting a community event, which invited people to speak about their experiences and float ideas for inspiring change, was a good start. The club started planning for the event last fall.

There was a BBQ to kick off, followed by presentations featuring club members. A discussion followed the presentations.

Leading up to the event, the club held a weeklong fundraiser at HHSS, with all proceeds supporting the ‘Helping Hampers’ initiative, led by Rotaract – another sister association, for young adults. ‘Helping Hampers’ is a community outreach program that provides basic needs items to individuals in the community. Rotaract prepares a hamper with basic needs for the community. Students sold rubber ducks all week, encouraging others to “give a duck a home,” Borgdorff said.

The fundraiser was a hit, with 60 per cent of the ducks sold on the first day. It raised $200 and Rotaract matched that amount, so the total from the fundraiser was $400.

Later, those in attendance heard how homelessness in Haliburton County isn’t as visible as it is in the city – with most people sleeping in cars or couch surfing, according to Borgdorff.

During the discussion, some people discussed the affordability crisis, issues with the local housing market, and how demand is currently outstripping supply, leading to more problems.

Everyone in attendance agreed one of the primary problems with homelessness in the Highlands is that people can’t see it day-today, so they don’t think it’s a major issue. One person commented how there’s a big divide between, “those who have, and those who don’t have in Haliburton County.”

Graham Borgdorff, a local carpenter, believes the housing crisis in Canada is due to “out of balance” supply and demand. He said the country needs to double the production of homes over the next 10 years, which he sees being a problem given the growing number of people retiring from the trades.

“All trades are at their maximum capacity in terms of workload as it is,” Graham said.

Rebeka Borgdorff, a teacher at HHSS, said there is a mentality shift towards communal living because people can’t afford their own spaces. That, along with the growing influence of tiny home communities, could form part of the solution in Haliburton County, she added.

Brody Bolger, another club co-president, said the second-highest cause of homelessness in Canada is domestic issues, with victims of abuse fleeing their situations with nowhere else to go. Nearly 40 per cent of the homeless population in Canada live in Ontario, Bolger added.