Nova Scotia·Updated

Pandemic homeless shelter to close, creating 'panic' for advocates

A pop-up shelter that opened in a Halifax gymnasium to house people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic is slated to close so the gym can reopen for recreation. Advocates say there's no clear alternative for the shelter residents, so the pending closure is creating "panic."

Province says it's looking for permanent housing for shelter residents

Many Canadian cities have set up temporary homeless shelters, like this one in Calgary's Telus Convention Centre, during the pandemic. (Telus Convention Centre handout via Canadian Press)

A pop-up shelter that opened to house people in Halifax with nowhere else to go during the COVID-19 pandemic is slated to close.

The province, the municipality and the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS) together opened three temporary shelters at the end of March as existing shelters reduced their capacity in order to follow physical distancing guidelines.

The temporary shelters had capacity for a total of 100 people.

Residents at two of the pop-up shelters moved into hotels in April and the sites were closed. The lone remaining pop-up, in the gymnasium of Citadel High School, is now housing 25 men — but not for much longer. 

Jim Graham is the director of AHANS, which has been operating the pop-ups. He said the looming deadline for finding another way to house the residents of the pop-up shelter is creating a sense of "panic."

"It's getting stressful ... There's a lot of vulnerable people at risk," said Graham.

HRM preparing to reopen rec facilities

A spokesperson for the provincial housing department said the shelters were only ever meant to be temporary and now that public health is easing some COVID-19 restrictions, the shelter spaces are scheduled to be repurposed for use by HRM.

Neither the province nor the municipality would give a firm date for the closing of the shelter at Citadel. A spokesperson for HRM said public facilities will be reopened in phases, but the plan isn't finalized.

"The municipality needs to start to get facilities ready to reopen," said Maggie-Jane Spray.

Graham said he thinks the shelter will have to close before the end of June. He said he's applied to the federal government for more funding to house people in hotels. AHANS has been managing hotel stays for more than 100 people since April, but funding for that initiative will run out by mid-June, he said.

Call for provincial funding

Without a change in course, Graham said, "we're gonna have a lot of people turned loose with no place to live, which is not exactly the best option."

He said Halifax's shelter population has increased from about 175, pre-pandemic, to a peak of about 260 people during the pandemic. He attributed the increase to a breakdown in informal housing arrangements, like couch surfing. 

He called on the province to move the remaining pop-up shelter residents into hotel rooms, and extend the stays until a more permanent solution is found.

"I think more than anything what we'd like to see is a little more breathing space to actually commit to a plan, a plan that includes the province," said Graham.

The provincial spokesperson said staff are working with "community partners" to find permanent housing for shelter residents.

Chuck Porter, minister of municipal affairs and housing, said he's confident in the direction his department is taking.

"We'll play this day by day as we always do and we'll do the very best we can to help shelter those looking for permanent housing," Porter told reporters Thursday during a conference call.

As for extending the hotel stays, he said his department will continue to look at options as each of the temporary shelter programs come to a close.

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About the Author

Taryn Grant

Reporter

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

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