New Halifax transition house commemorates late woman who longed for its creation
Caitlan's Place opens Monday with 6 beds for women and trans people
The only problem with Halifax's one transition house for women, according to Ashley Avery, is that it's always full.
Avery is the executive director of Coverdale Courtwork Society — a Halifax-based non-profit that works with women and trans people involved in the criminal justice system — and she's a staunch believer that supportive housing is an essential part of successfully transitioning out of jail.
That's why she's opening Halifax's second transition house for women: Caitlan's Place, which will open its doors on Monday.
Avery describes the six-bed house as a "safe landing spot" where residents will have round-the-clock access to staff to help them reintegrate into the community. Residents will also have ready access to the suite of services that Coverdale already provides, like legal and court support, and guidance on addictions recovery.
The space is named after Caitlan Greenwell, who died last fall at age 31.
"Caitlan was a very special and important woman in our community, and we worked very closely with her," said Avery.
"It seemed like a very sort of natural and organic fit to turn this into a project that honours her legacy."
Greenwell's story, Avery said, exemplifies the potential consequences of being involved in the criminal justice system, and highlights the need for intensive support following incarceration.
'We wouldn't be talking about her in the past tense'
Anne-Marie Houston remembers her friend, Greenwell, as someone with a big spirit, and big struggles. Houston said Greenwell was in and out of jail throughout her adulthood, she had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and was a recovering addict.
Last fall, in a mental health crisis, she ended her own life.
Houston said she believes a supportive housing environment would have set Greenwell down a different path.
"Caitlan's Place is something that Caitlan needed. Caitlan's Place would be something that would have benefited her when she was alive … we wouldn't be talking about her in the past tense."
Houston said Greenwell achieved some milestones worth celebrating in 2020, including the completion of an addictions recovery program shortly before the pandemic hit Nova Scotia. She made it through a one-year probation without reoffending, and was working to reconnect with her Indigenous roots and advocate for Indigenous women.
Greenwell grew up in Ontario and was "a proud Mohawk," but lost touch with the community after her mother's death when she was a child, Houston said.
"Caitlan wanted and she advocated and she pushed for a home like this for women coming out of incarceration, women that are homeless."
Houston is now carrying the torch for her friend — she'll be among the inaugural staff at Caitlan's Place.
Following the Holly House model
Avery said Coverdale has been working with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia to emulate the model at Halifax's one existing transition house for women, Holly House. Holly House recently expanded from eight beds to 10, but Avery said the demand is still greater than that.
Plans to open another, similar space began around the start of the pandemic as the provincial government started releasing some inmates to cut jail populations in case of COVID-19 outbreaks.
Several non-profits and community groups came together to find housing for those being released early. Hotel rooms were used as a stopgap for about 55 people; Avery said 16 people were eventually connected with permanent housing.
"It was incredibly successful … and when we had to conclude the project because of funding, the problem, of course, didn't go away."
13-month pilot program, with hopes to extend
Coverdale has enough money to run Caitlan's Place for a 13-month pilot program, although Avery is already thinking about how to turn it into a permanent operation.
About $300,000 of federal government money, directed by the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, will cover the program. That sum breaks down to about $130 a day, per resident.
"In comparison, it's about $217 [a day] to incarcerate someone. So it certainly is more cost effective and more affordable," Avery said.
Avery said she'll be spending some of her time over the next year to try to prove that effectiveness to politicians, and advocate for continual government funding for Caitlan's Place.
Where to get help
Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) crisisservicescanada.ca
In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre