Nova Scotia

Homeless women, youth in Cape Breton have few options, advocate warns

A leading advocate in the fight against homelessness on Cape Breton told a legislature committee Tuesday the best his organization can do sometimes is pay to get people off the island.

Fred Deveaux says the proportion of homeless people is proportionally larger than in Halifax

Twenty-four people who were recently surveyed in Cape Breton were sleeping outside or in a place determined to be ''not fit for habitation.' (CBC)

A leading advocate in the fight against homelessness on Cape Breton told a legislature committee Tuesday the best his organization can do sometimes is pay to get people off the island.

"We're often faced with a situation in [Cape Breton Regional Municipality], because we have no place for youth to go, with putting youth on a bus to Halifax to access Phoenix youth programs," Fred Deveaux told the all-party committee.

Phoenix is a non-profit, community-based organization located in Halifax that provides shelter and programs to young people between the ages of 11 and 24.

"We have an out-migration problem already," he said. "It doesn't sit well with anybody that, in order to access services, we are sending youth to Halifax."

Women may get 2 nights in hotel

According to Deveaux, homeless women are no better off.

"If you're a woman experiencing homelessness in CBRM, the Department of Community Services will pay for a maximum of two nights in a hotel to get you off the street for that amount of time," he said. "After that you're cut off."

Deveaux said once the women have had their two nights off the street, they're on their own again, which he said is far from ideal. 

"They put themselves in risky situations at times," he said. "Sometimes they return to abusive situations or they couch-surf."

Fred Deveaux says there are few resources for young people and women who end up homeless in Cape Breton. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

A one-day census of homeless people completed in April 2016 found 137 homeless people in the Sydney area. Slightly more than half were women. One in five was less than 24 years old.

Twenty-four of those people were sleeping outside or in a place determined to be "not fit for habitation."

According to Deveaux, a similar survey completed 12 days ago found 120 homeless individuals, but those numbers are preliminary and have yet to be validated.

Emergency shelter proposal

Deveaux's organization, Cape Breton Community Housing Association, has put together a proposal to set up an emergency shelter for young people and a facility geared specifically to house women.

The group is looking for $350,000 from the province which Deveaux called a "pittance" given the magnitude of the problem on the island.

He has not heard back from the department officially but is optimistic the proposal will get a sympathetic ear.

NDP MLA Tammy Martin says she was 'disgusted' to hear how little provincial money is going to Cape Breton to combat homelessness. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

He certainly got that from New Democrat MLA Tammy Martin, who represents Cape Breton Centre.

She called Deveaux's presentation upsetting, saying she was "shocked" to hear the region only receives three per cent of the provincial funding available for homelessness programs. 

"I'm disgusted to hear this," she told committee members. "That it's just one more part of how CBRM receives nothing and HRM receives everything. Honest to God, I think I'm speechless. But obviously not."

Committee making 8 recommendations

She convinced the all-party committee to adopt a motion, in which the chair of the committee will write a letter to the Minister of Community Service Kelly Regan, urging her to look at the funding and the possible disparity.

For his part, Deveaux left the committee with eight recommendations to pass along to government. Among them:

  • Expand emergency shelter services for women and youth in CBRM.
  • Continue to expand housing-first programming in CBRM.
  • Raise the shelter allowance received by people who get assistance from the province.
  • Allow single, non-senior households in affordable housing.
  • Continue to provide funding for housing support worker in CBRM. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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