By Emma Jones
Though we might have hoped the end of February would bring warmer weather, the past days have served as reminders of how harsh this month can be. On Wednesday evening, a blustery storm and the Homelessness Marathon on CKDU radio delivered chilling realities to residents of the Halifax Peninsula.
A group of over 60 community members gathered in the basement of St. Matthew’s Church on Barrington Street for the Halifax portion of the 12th annual Homelessness Marathon.
Based in Edmonton, the radio marathon started at 7 p.m. and continued for 14 hours, spotlighting dozens of community and campus radio stations from across the country. Each station brought a different perspective on the collective experience of homelessness and poverty in Canada.
Students, city planners, health workers, and homeless individuals made up some of those congregated in the downtown Halifax church to eat food, share experiences, and talk through often unspoken truths about poverty and homelessness through a national radio broadcast.
“The thing that I really like about the Homelessness Marathon is that it takes away from having experts talking on these subjects,” said Jordan Roberts, the events and communications coordinator for the CKDU and the Halifax organizer of the Homelessness Marathon.
“The Homelessness Marathon is mindful and focused on getting the voices of folks who don’t have access to large-scale media as a kind of alternative to mainstream coverage,” she explained.
Attendees sat in a circle and were each given equal opportunity to speak for the entire two-hour broadcast. Topics of discussion ranged from Halifax’s lack of affordable housing to the question of the determinacy of mental illness.
Many speakers felt that their own mental health had been stigmatized. Many more felt that they had been denied a number of basic human rights, even of their dignity, both by other community members and by government representatives.
A number of comments on the broadcast were directed at Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine and his recent public statement asking citizens to be responsible for their own health and wellbeing before taking advantage of the health care system.
One participant addressed Glavine directly, indignantly inviting him to justify his beliefs to those with health issues struggling simply to make ends meet.
Her comments were met with applause and shouts of approval.
Despite the challenging, frustrating, even painful nature of the discussion, there was an emergent element of celebration at the Homelessness Marathon.
Individuals shared many of their grievances, but they also shared their victories.
Zach Collins, who goes by the stage name Zach Trash, is an instructor at the Halifax Circus School as well as a volunteer with an outreach program for at-risk youth. A busking performer who was once homeless, Collins attributes his own success to the discovery of outreach and assistance programs through the Halifax Circus and St. Matthew’s Church. He attended the Homelessness Marathon to promote awareness for these kind of existing programs.
“It helps people realize the sort of options there are. Where there’s an issue in reaching resources and stuff, it can bring that sort of thing to light. And it gets people together for the discussion, which is half the battle,” Collins said.
Ryan Murphy, a participant in other CKDU radio initiatives, attended Wednesday’s event.
“It’s important to raise awareness in a community that’s as small as Halifax about the problem of homelessness, and more importantly, about the marginalization of poverty-stricken people,” Murphy expressed after the broadcast had taken place.
“The stigma surrounding all of those things allows us to forget about the people who exist within those communities and how they might need our help and awareness.”
Roberts shared this sentiment.
“Often, especially in the media when we hear about homelessness there’s kind of one thought pattern. There’s one party line,” she said.
“This is a great way for people to walk away learning more, knowing more, and motivated to do something about the issue of homelessness, inadequate housing, and poverty, both in our community here in Halifax and across Canada.”