'There's no affordable housing' advocates say as needs of homeless grow during pandemic
HALIFAX -- Advocates for the homeless in Halifax say COVID-19 and a lack of affordable housing in Halifax has created a perfect storm.
A small tent city has been erected in Victoria Park, just steps away from one of the busiest shopping districts in Atlantic Canada.
Homeless for a decade, Wade McCarthy is among them.
"This isn't Halifax anymore," McCarthy said. "This is little Vancouver right now, and everything's all building up and you have to have all kinds of money to survive."
Their stories are as unique as the situation.
Twenty-nine-year-old Samantha Smith just got out of rehab.
"Because of COVID, it was only a seven-day program, which is normally a 28-day program," Smith said. "And yeah, this is not my scene."
Terry Gillis is not happy, either, but even if there were shelter beds available, he wouldn't want one.
"No, nothing like that," Gillis said. "You know, you can get stabbed in your sleep, too. So you gotta watch that."
Advocates say the pandemic was just the spark needed to ignite a homelessness crisis.
"It's the perfect storm," said Jayme Lynn Butt of Shelter Nova Scotia. "The face of homelessness is not the same as it once was."
Forced to cuts beds to comply with public health orders, ever rising rents have literally changed the face of the problem.
"We've got folks that work every day, but they just can't afford a place to sleep because there's no affordable housing," Butt says.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says rent subsidies have helped, and more programs are in the works, but it's not as simple as building more shelters.
"We need to provide and wrap-around those supports of addictions and mental health," McNeil said. "Those kinds of supports that are part of this and that's why we made that kind of investment, really, the largest in our province's history in our last budget."
There's little optimism for change from McCarthy, who says he's heard it all before.
"I've been on and off these streets for years, and they say they're gonna help me out, but they never do," McCarthy says.
Shelter Nova Scotia has ambitions to expand and build a new facility in Halifax, which would ultimately mean more beds, but all of that is likely years away at this point.
It's small comfort to the folks who’ve set up in Victoria Park -- especially with winter fast approaching.