Nova Scotia

Group seeks community's help to tackle Northside drug problem, poverty rates

A provincewide initiative meant to address economic and social challenges in Nova Scotia plans to launch a public consultation in Cape Breton's northside region.

'No one is coming to help us help ourselves,' says Dorothy Halliday of Community Cares Youth Outreach

With high poverty rates, the number of people depending on food banks in Sydney Mines and North Sydney is growing. (CBC)

A provincewide initiative meant to address economic and social challenges in Nova Scotia plans to launch a public consultation in Cape Breton's Northside region.

Annika Voltan, director of the Inspiring Communities Initiative, said the partnership has gathered data on drug use and reliance on food banks in the North Sydney and Sydney Mines area.

The numbers are alarming, she said.

Last year, the number of people using food banks in those communities grew by 23 per cent. 

There is also a large percentage of low-income residents in the Northside, said Voltan, and "one in four is living in unaffordable housing, which is almost double the rate in Nova Scotia."

Annika Voltan of Inspiring Communities (left) and Dorothy Halliday (right) at Community Cares in Sydney Mines. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

Another "particularly staggering" figure, she said, is the number of syringes distributed last year in the Northside by the needle exchange program — 92,700.

"If you were to equate that with the residents in the area, it would be seven syringes per person," said Voltan.

Creating a vision

Inspiring Communities is a partnership between various provincial government departments and the Nova Scotia School Boards Association that provides resources and expertise to communities looking for solutions to local problems.

Voltan said the partnership hopes to use the information it's gathered to come up with a shared vision for the community.

It also hopes to have between 500 and 600 people answer a questionnaire about the challenges facing the area.

'No one is coming to help us help ourselves'

Dorothy Halliday, head of Community Cares Youth Outreach, gets emotional when asked what keeps her up at night. It's the area's drug problem.

"So many people are losing their children and children are losing their parents every day," said Halliday, who has partnered with Inspiring Communities.

"I don't know if it's because we are an island, but no one is coming to help us help ourselves."

Halliday said she believes the people of Cape Breton have the skills to solve their problems. 

One of the challenges, however, is that many people who could contribute to the community cannot because they are struggling every day to meet their own needs, she said.

with files from Information Morning Cape Breton