Halifax emergency shelters to receive 40 more beds at time of high demand
HALIFAX -- A pair of Halifax emergency shelters will be receiving 40 additional beds from the province, at a time when they say their services are in high demand.
In a news release issued Monday, the Nova Scotia government announced it will spend $1.7 million to add 25 beds the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre and 15 beds at the North End Community Health Centre.
"It’s such a gift honestly, to be able to do this for our community," said Pamela Glode Desrouchers of the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Society.
Glode Desrouchers says, during the pandemic, her organization faced double the demand.
She calls the 40 beds a start, but doesn’t believe it’s enough in the long term.
"The increase this last little while has been huge. The concern is, what does the future hold?" said Glode Desrouchers. "We’re just now getting 25 beds we probably should’ve had 20 years ago."
The province says the added beds are a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused a shortage in available beds at shelters.
"With COVID-19 circulating in our communities, and winter at our doorstep, having more people living without shelter creates unacceptable health and safety concerns," said Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Chuck Porter. "This investment will replace beds lost when shelters had to remove beds due to physical distancing requirements and add new ones to our shelter system."
The province says both organizations are expected to open in the coming days, and the agreement will be in place for the next year, until Dec. 31, 2021.
"We have seen our homeless client numbers double since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Pam Glode-Desrochers, executive director of the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre. “This support from the province could not come at a more pivotal time as it will help the growing number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who are struggling to find affordable housing in the middle of this unparalleled health crisis.”
"Our new initiative will provide immediate temporary housing for some of our community's most vulnerable individuals," adds Marie-France LeBlanc, executive director of the North End Community Health Centre. "This funding gives us 12 months to work with our provincial, municipal and community partners to create permanent solutions for those experiencing homelessness."
Physical distancing rules forced some shelters to reduce capacity, and as capacity went down, the homeless count went up.
According to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, the latest homeless count sits just under 500 people, which is double what it was before the pandemic.
"I’d say the majority of those are precariously housed," said the association's Jim Graham. "So they’re living somewhere they don’t have a lease."
Graham notes COVID-19 has made couch-surfing more difficult, but believes the new shelters mean demand will be met.
Another Halifax shelter, Out of the Cold, officially opened the doors of its new space on Barrington St. on Saturday night.
Out of the Cold staff say there is already a large demand for beds at the facility, which can provide shelter for 25 people nightly.
“So far we have a list of probably about 40 people,” says Michelle Malette, executive director of Out of the Cold. “We have it pared down to about 25, and we still have people regularly coming to the door that can’t access the other shelters for one reason or another. The need is going to be greater this year. Where people were once able to couch surf and get by, that’s really not as much a thing anymore.”
According to the release, 647 people have been housed by provincially funded housing supports since April 1.
A housing option not on the table for this man right now, who wants people to understand homelessness isn’t simple to understand.
"A lot of people have mental health issues, they have trauma issues, they have a lot of different things going on within their lives," said the man. "Some people coming out of being incarcerated. Some people just have nowhere to go. And it’s more difficult than you think."