Kate’s Rest Foundation seeks to illuminate the homeless experience

THE BYRON PROJECT-The late Byron St. Amour found refuge at Kate's Rest after experiencing homelessness. Now Kate's Rest Foundation is beginning to compile stories about experiences with homelessness-whether direct or indirect. (Submitted Photo)

SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

The old adage “you can never go home again” has taken on new meaning for a growing number of Canadians who find themselves shut out of the country’s burgeoning real estate market. For those who would prefer to believe homelessness is not an issue in Prince Edward County, The forthcoming Byron Project will surely put this assumption to rest.

The project, named after the late Byron St. Amour, will be a community collaboration of stories that reflect the lived experience of homelessness. St. Amour, who passed away this January, was a member of Kate’s Rest community on Big Island.

The project is intended not only as a memorial to St. Amour, but also as a means to further the work of Kate’s Rest Foundation. The foundation has been providing permanent housing on Big Island for those experiencing homelessness or those at risk of becoming homeless since 2006.

According to their website, “Kate’s Rest has provided food, permanent supportive housing, community, transportation, education opportunities, skills development, and so much more, for the total of 14 years. To date we have not received funding from any charity, municipal, provincial or federal source.”

Before finding the community on Big Island, the late St. Amour was homeless, having taken up residence on a local bench at Picton’s Delhi Park.

“The project will collect stories of people to describe their experience or encounter with the broader community when they were homeless, the resourcefulness by which they survived, and the paths they see the community must take to include them,” according to a recent Kate’s Rest press release. “It will seek to record the stories of people who encountered homeless persons whether through their work, their chance encounter on the street, or as a relative or friend.”

For Brian Hart, founder of Kate’s Rest and the force behind the Byron Project, sharing stories of homelessness is key to understanding the broader impact on the community.

“My journey has brought me to the understanding that the creation and nurturing of community here at Kate’s Rest is as vital to the people who make up the greater Prince Edward County community as it is to the people who live here at Kate’s Rest,” Hart commented. “The PEC community is diminished by the struggles of people who are marginalized in our community by their homelessness and poverty.  To remedy this fact, our community must reframe our perceptions of homelessness as not merely being the crisis of an individual that must be housed, but equally as important, as that of our community that must be healed.”

In speaking with the Gazette, Hart described housing as only one part of the solution for homelessness, it being merely a symptom of a larger societal issue.

“When someone is homeless, our first and normal response is to want to put a roof over their head, and food in their belly. As much as that is necessary, it remains only part of a solution,” Hart asserted.

For Hart, the symbiotic relationship between individual health and that of a community is clear.

Kate’s Rest. (Kate’s Rest Foundation)

“Healthy community is not merely a group of well-fed people, housed in a particular area.  Within healthy communities there is an active dynamic that promotes supportive relationships and loving responses to the particular needs of community members.  In healthy communities, if there is a particular deficit that a community member presents, then the community responds to compassionately compensate for that deficit.”

In the years since Hart has operated Kate’s Rest, he noticed there are varied reasons people become homeless. Often, he stated, it begins with childhood trauma.

With the cause of homelessness being varied, there needs to be multiple resources that are drawn upon to find a solution.

“There must be municipal, social service, healthcare, and policing collaboration. We all must work together. Even charitable groups such as churches, schools…we all need to work together and all have a role to play in addressing this ongoing problem,” he said.

According to Hart, there is more homelessness now, on a global scale, than during either World War 1 or World War 2. Nonetheless, he believes any amount of homelessness is an issue that needs to be addressed.

“Any amount of homelessness is unacceptable. I would say one is too many. We have to find a way to work together, as a community and not just agencies to, first of all, understand homelessness and how people feel when they’re experiencing homelessness and how it affects the whole community, not just the individual and that we work to find solutions to this growing problem,” he said.

Speaking of the issue locally, Hart contends it is somewhat hidden. As with other rural areas, the county lacks resources to address homelessness.

The power of stories is a well-documented tool of catharsis for those who have experienced trauma-one the Byron Project intends to use to begin the process of healing and eventually, pave the way toward ending homelessness.

“To begin the process of healing those community wounds, the Byron Project proposes to bring community members together to begin the storytelling of their experience of homelessness, either from their lived experience or from their direct or indirect encounters with those experiencing homelessness,” explained Hart. “From those stories, we would hope to begin to reimagine our community as becoming whole, inclusive, healing and restorative.  In our storytelling, images of restorative justice will certainly arise, as will those of healing, mutuality, and forgiveness.  And from those images, great new beginnings may arise within our community that could lead to a better understanding and response.”

The public stories will eventually be uploaded to the Kate’s Rest Foundation website. As well, a plaque in Delhi Park-where Byron St Amour found refuge while homeless-will be erected to commemorate the man for which this project takes its name.

In honouring St. Amour, Hart hopes to honour those who are able to survive on the streets and all those who are working to help find a solution to end homelessness.

For more information, or to donate, please visit: www.katesrestfoundation.ca