Nova Scotia

Catholic church expands project to help people find a home of their own

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth is stepping up efforts to help people experiencing homelessness through its transitional housing program.

Halifax-Yarmouth archdiocese now has shelter co-ordinator connecting people to housing

A man on the left in a blue vest is smiling as he speaks with a woman in a chequered shirt who is helping him find housing.
Catholic Archdiocese shelter coordinator Lindsay Misiner, right, is helping people like Stephen Moses move out of shelters on parish properties and into more permanent housing. (CBC)

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth is stepping up efforts to help people experiencing homelessness through its transitional housing program.

The church has hired a shelter co-ordinator whose job it is to support people living in emergency shelters at parish properties throughout the archdiocese.

Twenty of the shelters measuring approximately 2.5 metres by 2.5 metres have been installed since December 2021. They each include a bed, heating and air conditioning, lighting and ports to charge devices.

Initially the goal for the shelters was to help get people without anywhere else to go through that winter, but as the housing crisis continues, they remain in place and five more shelters are being provided. 

"It was intended to be temporary, but the archdiocese realized that the need for shelter was not going anywhere," said Lindsay Misiner, the shelter co-ordinator. 

Several tents and possessions are shown in a wooded area in Halifax.
The Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia says the past few months have seen the number of people who are homeless in Halifax reach the highest levels on record. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

When the project began in the winter of 2021, 467 people were considered actively homeless in Halifax, according to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia.

That number has almost doubled to 942 as of May 23. The association said the numbers over the past few months are the highest since it started tracking in 2018.

"It's a much bigger crisis than people realize," Misiner said. "The amount of housing that is available is not getting better, it is getting worse."

Her role is to help each person housed in the shelters on church properties make plans to find permanent housing. 

That starts with examining ways for them to access financial assistance or find work, as well as applying for additional help through programs such as government subsidies.

She also connects people to any mental health or addiction treatment they might need, before taking the final step toward helping them find their own place.

Having been precariously housed in the past herself with previous mental health and addiction issues, Misiner brings experience and passion to the job. 

"I've actually lived it, so I know what it feels like to need that help," she said.

'I would have frozen to death'

Stephen Moses, 46, is one of five people who have found a home through the program after living in one of the tiny shelters at Saint Theresa's church for about 10 months.

That happened after he was evicted, he said, and although he continued to work in a retail job, he could not find any other home to fit his budget. 

But with Misiner's help, he was able to qualify for the Canada-Nova Scotia housing benefit that helped him move into an apartment in Spryfield in October.

The program provides a monthly allowance for people who are paying more than 50 per cent of their income on housing.

"I have a safe place. I have a door that locks. I have heat and electricity. I can cook. I have a refrigerator, a bathroom," he said.

An eight by eight foot shelter with metal siding and a white door is shown in the foreground alongside a lawn chair with a church in the background.
The church is acquiring five more shelters like the above one shown at St. Clement's Catholic Church in Dartmouth. The shelters cost $11,500 each, according to the archdiocese. (CBC)

While a huge improvement on the small shelter he lived in before at the church, he's also grateful for the connections he made there that kept him going.

"I wouldn't be alive right now, I would have frozen to death," he said.

Moses and others have been supported by $390,000 in donations the archdiocese said it has collected to help its program.

Volunteers at churches throughout the region have also been helping by running meal programs or offering gift cards for those staying at the parish shelters, which do not have cooking facilities.

"The best we can do is what we're doing," said John Lewis with Saint Benedict Parish in Clayton Park. "What is a little bit disheartening is that there is so much need in our community." 

The transitional housing program is temporary for now and can only help a certain number of people, but Misiner is upbeat about its impact. 

"I think what we're doing is a small piece to the puzzle and it is a fabulous piece."

Misiner is optimistic about finding housing for eight more people currently living in the church shelters by the fall.


Gareth Hampshire began his career with CBC News in 1998. He has worked as a reporter in Edmonton and is now based in Halifax.