Thank you for being interested in hearing from Shelter Nova Scotia during this unprecedented time of crisis in terms of housing and homelessness, and the increasing barriers faced by Nova Scotians.
Although no one is surprised that once again the most marginalized members of our society are facing the most loss, I do not think anyone was expecting the magnitude of the crisis. COVID-19 has impacted all sectors of our organization – our shelters, supported housing, corrections and community support programs - but there is even more than COVID-19 at play here.
The number of people experiencing homelessness has increased. There are more - and more complex - reasons people find themselves with no place to live. We have come to understand that when living with long term mental health and/or substance use struggles and not enough support, people find themselves with nowhere to turn and it can be a long and slow road toward stability.
We also understand that people who cannot find work and are unable to pay rent sometimes find themselves only part-time and often precarious places to live as they stay temporarily with people who may or may not offer safety for them, as they try to get established.
But now, people with jobs are also sleeping in tents outside, or in shelters, because they can’t afford market rents. Recently I became aware of a person working full time who could afford $900 a month for rent, but could not find an apartment and was sleeping in a tent outside. I also spoke to a couple who have been together, working and housed for over 35 years, who could no longer afford the rent they had been paying. They asked me if there was a place I could refer them to learn how to be homeless. They expected to be without a place to live within three months.
There are many other stories like these. This is a new group of Nova Scotians we are getting to know. Shelter Nova Scotia has a 40 year history of supporting people in six facilities and through outreach methods, supporting their stabilization for as long as they need. For some it is for a few months and with others it is for years.
A new story about experiencing homelessness is one we don’t hear directly, because these folks are not coming to us for a place to stay. They live outside; they are trying to stabilize their living circumstances on their own. They want to find a place to live and are trying to do so in impossible circumstances.
To provide some solutions on their journey, on November 15th we opened what we are calling a Housing Hub. This is a small service centre where people living outside can use a washroom, have a shower, wash their laundry, get something to eat, and meet with a housing support worker. This service is located at 5506 Cunard Street, at the site of our previous administrative offices. We are drawing upon the expertise of current employees and donations. It’s already a game changer, offering street-front basic needs for those living outside.
One goal is to open a much larger service centre with affordable, supported housing on the vacant land next to our emergency shelter, Metro Turning Point. The property on Barrington Street is owned by Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). We have been in discussions with HRM staff and elected representatives for a few years about how our plan could fit into the Cogswell District Redevelopment Project. City council is considering a feasibility study for our proposal.
We are feeling focused and determined in our contributions to long term solutions and those planned by our peers and other stakeholders. However, in the short term the crisis is real, yet the term crisis does not seem to be a strong enough word. Current circumstances are chaotic and dangerous, and require steadfast philosophical and financial commitment from all sectors of society to attend responsibly to this dire need.
On behalf of all of us I am sending you strong wishes for safety, understanding, and happiness.
Executive Director, Shelter Nova Scotia