Crystal Bork. Photo by Leila Beaudoin
By Leila Beaudoin
Defining homelessness in Regina isn’t easy. The issue goes far beyond whether or not one owns their own home.
“If you think about homelessness, it’s about having a place to leave your stuff but when your couch-surfing and have three families in one house, that’s relative homelessness,” says Marc Spooner, education professor at the University of Regina.
In Regina there’s a different kind of homelessness.
Crystal Bork remembers Dec.5, 2009. She and her mother, Bonnie Bork came home to find a condemned sign on the front door of their home, an apartment in the former Harvard Broadcast building on 2060 Halifax St. They had to be out by 5 p.m.
“They weren’t going to let me in. They just kicked us out; we all had to find new homes.” The building had been converted to apartments about two years ago, but fire officials said the building didn’t meet safety standards, citing lack of fire alarms, fire doors or windows that opened. Bork said the night before the inspector came the landlord put alarms in every suite.
It was too little, too late. This inadequacy was just the beginning of what Bork recalls as a living nightmare.
"It was horrible living there. There were fights in the hallways; this one girl got beat down. I was so scared.”
Bork recalled the bathrooms with disgust. She said when you were sitting on the toilet, feces from upstairs would fall down on top of you. The unisex shower had no door.
“I stayed there at night and it was scary. People would fight all night. Screaming. There were always fights.”
Bonnie Bork bought a fridge. They were the only people in the building who had one. The day they moved in, the landlord told them they would be equipped with a fridge and stove the next day. The appliances never came.
“We’re like scum (homeless people in Regina), I swear to you we’re like the scum of the earth—even welfare wouldn’t help me for the longest time.”
Bork doubts they will get their money back.
The issue of homelessness is not black and white, according to Spooner. There’s a grey area requiring attention. Condemned buildings forcing people to leave and children with learning difficulties are products of the homelessness cycle. “How can a child learn adequately when he or she has to move three to four times during a school year?” he asked.
From 2007 to 2009, he worked on a City of Regina Survival Guide and Map.
The map shows homeless people places where they can get quick help in Regina. It lists places to obtain food, emergency shelter, community care, free clothing and needle exchanges.
Spooner defines it as a “living document.” It helps people stay alive and it is a work in progress.
There are only eight transitional shelter spaces in Regina for women. Those eight spaces were full almost every night in 2009.
Every night in January 2009, an estimated 530 people slept in Regina Shelters.
Shawn Fraser, director of Carmichael Outreach Inc., says Regina has critical housing problems.
“The housing market here has just totally skyrocketed over the last 18 months. But the issue we’re dealing with here is not only about affordable housing but about quality housing. There are not a lot of tools in place for that to be managed,” he said.
Fraser said if Bonnie and Crystal Bork didn’t come forward nothing would have been done. “People don’t like dealing with systems at all.”
Fraser joined the Borks alongside several others Jan. 20 at a court hearing regarding the matter.