Nova Scotia

Feds extend hotel stay for Halifax homeless after province axes funding

After transferring a small group of people who were living in a temporary homeless shelter into private hotel rooms because of possible COVID-19 exposure two weeks ago, Nova Scotia is cutting off funding for the rooms, but the people living in them will get to stay because of federal intervention.

More than 100 people without stable housing are being put up in hotels until the end of June

Housing advocates say providing hotel rooms to people without homes during the pandemic is the best way to protect the health of individuals and that of the public. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

After transferring a small group of people who were living in a temporary homeless shelter into private hotel rooms because of possible COVID-19 exposure two weeks ago, Nova Scotia is cutting off funding for the rooms, but the people living in them will get to stay because of federal intervention.

In response to the arrival of COVID-19 in March, Nova Scotia opened three temporary shelters in Halifax to spread out residents living in existing shelters and allow for greater physical distancing.

On April 23, a resident of one of the temporary shelters tested positive for the coronavirus, which led the province to shut down the shelter and move all 31 residents into private hotel rooms. There, public health ordered the former shelter residents to self-isolate for 14 days while they waited out the virus's incubation period.

The hotel stay would have ended with the conclusion of the two-week isolation, but an organization managing some of the federal government's emergency COVID-19 funding stepped in to extend the stay until the end of June.

Cots at the former location of the Out of the Cold emergency shelter in downtown Halifax. (Out of the Cold/Facebook)

Jim Graham, executive director of the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS), said the non-profit intervened because "we believe in social distancing and you cannot social distance in a shelter."

Graham said the approach is safer for residents and the staff who support them.

He said providing long-term hotel stays to people without stable housing is a best practice during the coronavirus pandemic.

Province paying for some long-term hotel stays

The province isn't following that model across the board, but early in the pandemic it placed 23 homeless individuals who are immunocompromised or otherwise at high risk for severe illness into hotels, and it's keeping them there until at least the end of May.

That work was done by the Department of Community Services.

CBC News requested interviews with Community Services Minister Kelly Regan and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Chuck Porter, but those requests were denied.

In a statement, a Municipal Affairs spokesperson said no new COVID-19 cases have been identified in the homeless population.

Out of the Cold, Halifax's emergency winter shelter, also moved residents into a hotel in early April. Shelter co-founder Jeff Karabanow said the hotel model is the best way to help people follow public health orders during the pandemic.

More stability, better quality of life

In an interview this week, Karabanow said the 44 people his shelter has put up in a hotel are doing well and feeling more stable than they did in the communal shelter setting. For many of them, the hotel stay has improved their quality of life and mental health, he said.

Using the shelter's own budget, Karabanow said he would have been able to keep his clients in the hotel until the end of April. But AHANS is now extending their stay as well.

The initiative will mean a total of 104 homeless and housing insecure people in Halifax will be able to stay in hotels until the end of June. That's as far as the $1.5 million allocated through federal COVID-19 funding will go, according to Graham.

One temporary shelter in Halifax is still open and many of the permanent shelters around the city continue to operate at reduced capacity. Graham said it wouldn't be sustainable to move the city's entire homeless population into hotels on the organization's existing budget.

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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