Nova Scotia

Halifax's plan for mobile showers doesn't address root cause of homelessness, prof says

A Dalhousie University social work professor says a proposed mobile shower pilot project for people experiencing homelessness in Halifax is "a Band-Aid solution."

Dalhousie's Jeff Karabanow says focus should be on placing people in safe, affordable housing

Jeff Karabanow is a professor at Dalhousie University and one of the directors of the Dalhousie Social Work community clinic. He says mobile shower programs work best in places with large homeless populations. (CBC)

A Dalhousie University social work professor says a proposed mobile shower pilot project for people experiencing homelessness in Halifax is "a Band-Aid solution."

A Halifax council staff report recommends the city approve renting portable shower facilities for nine weeks at a cost of $16,999. It will be discussed at Tuesday's meeting.

Jeff Karabanow, who is a director of the Dalhousie School of Social Work community clinic, said the measure addresses the need for basic hygiene. But he said the better remedy would be to ensure people have access to safe, supportive and affordable housing.

Karabanow said mobile shower units are effective in places where homeless populations are larger and stable housing options are unavailable.

"We don't have that large population," he said. "We could really be putting all the resources around these Band-Aid solutions into something that's more permanent."

Employees prepare free toiletries at a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières temporary shower trailer in Manhattan for the homeless and other vulnerable communities on May 07, 2020, in New York. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The staff report says there were 400 homeless people in Halifax as of Aug. 10. That is twice as many as the year before.

Halifax is in the grips of an affordable housing shortage.

Advocates and tenants have been sounding alarm bells over the state of the housing market, including during the August provincial election.

The issue captured more public attention last month when Halifax police pepper-sprayed and arrested protesters in the city's downtown as officials cleared dozens of tents and temporary shelters from encampments in local parks and green spaces.

Halifax police surround a shelter on Aug. 18 outside the old library on Spring Garden Road to keep protesters back. One protestor sat on the shelter roof for hours to prevent its removal. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

"We should not be allowing anybody on the street living in tents to begin with," said Karabanow. "It's addressing the impact of the problem as opposed to really exploring the symptoms of this dynamic."

It's unclear where the mobile shower unit would be set up. The report says city staff, the Mainline Needle Exchange and Halifax Public Libraries are working to identify a location.

The report also says council could staff to look at retrofitting a Halifax Transit bus so it would have shower facilities. The cost is estimated at $150,000.

Ramon Aguilar, left, helps a man get into a mobile shower provided by The Shower of Hope, a homeless services group, in Los Angeles on March 23, 2020. A Halifax council report says staff could look into retrofitting a Halifax Transit bus to turn it into a mobile shower facility. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

"I can't stop wondering why they can't move that amount of funds into just something that's more sustainable, more permanent, like particular units in apartments to house folks so that they can have that stability," said Karabanow.

'Something that's needed right away,' says councillor

Coun. Tony Mancini put forth the motion for the staff report. He said he came up with the idea after hearing about two people who couldn't attend job interviews because they had nowhere to shower.

"This is immediate, something that's needed right away," said Mancini.

"Do we need more housing? Absolutely. We need more affordable housing? Absolutely."

Mancini noted that housing matters are primarily the responsibility of the province. He said for too long the three levels of government have not done enough on housing.

Within the past month, Halifax council approved two motions related to housing. One is to allocate $500,000 to the creation of emergency housing, like hotel rooms and other spaces, and the other is to devote federal rapid housing initiative funds to create 85 new affordable units.

Rent cap

The province introduced a temporary rent cap last year that limits rent increases to two per cent.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, who was sworn in last month, has repeatedly said rent control is not something he plans to continue.

Housing Minister John Lohr suggested earlier this month the government would consider extending rent control beyond the state of emergency.

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