Nova Scotia

Nova Scotians will no longer need home address to get income assistance

People who don't have a home address will no longer be disqualified from getting income assistance starting next month.

Advocates says long-standing requirement left homeless in catch-22 situation

Eric Jonsson is a social worker who works for a group that provides support for homeless people in downtown Halifax. (Stoo Metz)

People who don't have a home address, but also don't want to live in a shelter, will soon be able to apply for income assistance.

Nova Scotia's Department of Community Services is ending a long-standing policy that only people who can provide a home address can get assistance.

Community Services Minister Kelly Regan called the move "a natural evolution" of a decades-old policy many people said made no sense. The change will take effect July 1.

Regan said people will still need to provide an address to the provincial government, but it could be a community group or organization and it won't have to be where a person lives.

Social worker Eric Jonsson, who works for a group that provides support for homeless people in downtown Halifax, said the change should come as welcome relief to those who don't have a permanent home.

'Catch-22 situation'

"They're in this kinda catch-22 situation where they want to get an apartment but you need income to get an apartment," said Jonsson.

"A lot of people, the only income they qualify for is income assistance, and the rule was always to get income assistance you need an address first."

People who live at a shelter or in other temporary accommodation provided by a community organization are able to get income assistance by providing that group's business address as a home address.

But Jonsson says some people would rather live on their own than share space with others. He said some are simply not comfortable in shelters.

"There's been outbreaks of COVID in shelters and there's a lot drama and criminal kinda involvement and substance abuse issues in shelters, so a lot of people would prefer to stay outside even though that means they don't get any [provincial] money." 

"I think the province is coming more and more around to the fact that we can't just ignore the people outside anymore."

Meghan Hansford is Adsum's housing support program manager. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Meghan Hansford, the housing support program manager at Adsum for Women and Children, was also happy to hear news of the change.

'Welcome news'

She said it is something "our community has been trying to champion and change for years."

"We've all known that this is a major issue and a barrier for many folks who are experiencing homelessness," said Hansford. "For us it was a surprise, but welcome news for us.

"It's just one of those things that we've all been kinda banging our heads, saying this is an impossible situation. It doesn't make sense."

Hansford said the policy also made it harder for some women to leave abusive partners.

"Financial security is a major reason why women will stay with abusive partners and stay in abusive relationships because there is no way for them to support themselves if they're not working at the moment, if they're providing child care," said Hansford.

Hansford and Jonsson both noted another big plus from the policy change. People who receive assistance also become eligible for free pharmacare.