Nova Scotia

N.S. pledges $10M to support people experiencing homelessness

The province is promising just over $10 million to help support people experiencing homelessness.

Money will go to non-profits, mental health support over 2 years

Two wooden emergency shelters stand among tents at a homeless encampment in Halifax's Meagher Park in August. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

The Nova Scotia government is promising just over $10 million to help support people who are experiencing homelessness, coinciding with a new housing strategy released Wednesday.

According to a news release from the Department of Community Services, the provincial government will invest $10.1 million over two years for "wrap-around supports, shelter and culturally relevant housing" across Nova Scotia.

"It's a first step," Premier Tim Houston said during a press conference alongside Housing Minister John Lohr Wednesday.

"It's a big step with many parts, but still only the first step. More steps will certainly be necessary but ... the most certain way to ensure that people remain homeless is to do nothing.

"We know enough right now to take action."

The province said that as of Tuesday, there were about 409 people in the Halifax Regional Municipality experiencing homelessness.

Data compiled by CBC News from community organizations in every region of the province shows 1,168 people recently sought help because they're homeless or on the verge of losing their home. 

Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane said in the release that these investments will create greater stability in the province's shelter system and move toward a "more preventative approach," with a goal of more permanent housing.

The largest share of this investment will see $4.2 million go to various organizations across the province to maintain emergency shelter investments created during the COVID-19 pandemic, the release said.

There will be $1.6 million for the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre's Diamond Bailey House, an Indigenous supportive housing initiative in Halifax. An additional $76,000 will be provided in the first year for startup costs.

The province has promised $1.6 million to the Diamond Bailey House project. (Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre)

"The Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Society is excited to see the continued investments for the urban Indigenous community in regard to addressing the chronic homelessness issues facing our community," Pam Glode-Desrochers, executive director of the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Society, said in the release.

"These investments will support several of the calls to action identified in the Truth and Reconciliation report. We look forward to working with the Province on addressing the chronic housing crisis facing us all."

Other details include $1.3 million for emergency, short-term hotel stays with 24/7 support for people temporarily living in hotels, and $713,000 annually to Shelter Nova Scotia to "stabilize" operations.

Lohr said work is underway to secure hotel partners for this stage of the plan, both in Halifax and around the province.

Another $931,000 will go to support people transitioning out of correctional facilities, including funding for the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia.

Karla MacFarlane is Nova Scotia's community services minister. (CBC)

Adsum for Women and Children will receive $630,000 to launch a Diverting Families program in East Preston. There will be a pilot project of the program conducted for Nova Scotians living in Shelburne, Yarmouth and Digby. 

This program will work directly with families who are in crisis due to homelessness or impending homelessness, the release said.

The growing homelessness issue resulted in a violent clash between police and protestors in Halifax this summer, when the Halifax Regional Municipality evicted homeless people from public parks and green spaces and destroyed their shelters and tents.

At the time of the Aug. 18 evictions, Mayor Mike Savage said everyone who was evicted was offered other housing, like indefinite hotel stays. But people in the parks said that did not happen, and street navigators have said there were not enough hotel rooms at the time.

Other social workers and advocates have said hotels are often not suitable for many people since they have not usually come with mental health or addictions support.

When asked about ensuring supports are in place and that people aren't unexpectedly asked to leave a hotel, Houston said MacFarlane has been "working closely" on those considerations. He added the province and Halifax municipality will focus on keeping people safe while they shelter them.

"The reality is sheltering people in hotels is not ideal. It's not where we want to be, but it's where we are," Houston said.

Mayor Savage said in a press conference Wednesday that it was "very positive" to see provincial funds supporting those who are homeless.

Housing is a provincial responsibility, but the Halifax municipality took its own steps steps last month, allocating $500,000 to the creation of emergency housing like hotel rooms and other spaces, and devoting $20 million in federal rapid housing initiative funds to create 137 new affordable housing units.

So far, the city has purchased 24 "trailer-like" modular units for a site in Dartmouth and another site in Halifax. Details have not yet been released on the location of those sites.

Savage said he was glad to hear the province will be guaranteeing wraparound supports for people in hotels or in those emergency units created by HRM.

"Putting somebody in a hotel or modular unit ... without the kind of support that they need, in some cases for addictions, mental health, other issues, doesn't help," Savage said.

"We need people to be connected to Community Services in order for them to have the best opportunity to succeed."

NDP leader Gary Burrill says he's happy to see new funding for people experiencing homelessness, which he credits to strong voices from the opposition and public. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

NDP leader Gary Burrill said the investments around homelessness were a surprise. The PC government's first throne speech did not show "sliver of interest" in the issue, he said, yet now there's a "major policy statement" with multiple dimensions, and considerable spending.

Burrill said the move is a real testament to how change can be made, even with a majority government, with a combination of strong opposition in the legislature, community organizing, and citizens who are "deeply concerned and outraged."

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