A Masters student at Memorial University is spending six weeks in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to study the causes of the local transient and homeless population.
Sarah-Mae Rahul, who’s mastering in geography, has already spend more than two weeks in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to conduct interviews and gather data. She came to central Labrador after the local Housing and Homelessness Coalition reached out to her thesis supervisor at MUN.
So far, she has noticed that Happy Valley-Goose Bay acts as the service hub for much of Labrador, and that affordable housing is lacking.
“Housing is super unaffordable…and there’s not enough housing,” said Rahul. “And it seems that Happy Valley-Goose Bay is really serving the needs of, not just the community, but the whole territory of Labrador.”
“You guys have services and opportunities and resources that are lacking in other places.”
“I think it speaks to a lot of inequities that we’re seeing in northern and Indigenous geographies as well.”
For several years, Happy Valley-Goose Bay has been having problems dealing with a transient population, particularly in the warmer spring and summer months. Many people camp in the woods around town and residents have become concerned for their safety and property.
On June 13, the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay issued a press release, asking for an emergency meeting with the province to discuss these concerns.
“Mayor Wilson (Wally) Andersen and members of council have held numerous meetings with the RCMP, as well as with other community stakeholders to raise concerns regarding instances of indecent acts, public drunkenness, trespassing, and loitering,” states the press release.
Rahul says the community’s concern for safety is understandable.
“It seems like there’s a lot of public safety concerns that are absolutely valid … it really makes the case that it’s pressing that’s there’s more services and help for this population,” she said.
A lot of Happy Valley-Goose Bay residents have been concerned about getting addiction treatment for members of the transient population, since many of them have been seen intoxicated in public. Rahul believes the addictions aspect represents a “larger story” of the issues at play.
‘We’re focussing a lot on the drugs and alcohol and the mental health, but there’s a larger story behind it and a lot of it is behind intergenerational trauma, and a lot of it is inequity,” said Rahul. “A lot of people are not having the opportunity and services that they need in their home communities and they’re coming here, hoping to try and access that.”
“Alcohol and drug addiction speak to the larger discussion around mental health, and really the lack of services in small northern communities. It’s also intertwined a lot with colonial history and intergenerational trauma.”
After her first six weeks in Labrador are over, Rahul plans to return in September. She hopes, at some point, to be able to interview members of the transient population.
“Because it’s a vulnerable population, I need a lot of ethics approval, so I’m hoping when I come back in September, I can get that lived experience, because that’s a very vital part,” said Rahul.
Rahul will present a policy report in the fall with her recommendations and research findings.