Nova Scotia

People in Halifax homeless camps welcome new hotel funding as cold sets in

People dealing with homelessness say more hotel stays will be a good solution for most.

Some say hotel stays good for short term, but higher rent assistance would make bigger impact

Craig Stewart is living in a tent at the Meagher Park site on Chebucto Road. (CBC)

Craig Stewart is hopeful new provincial funding means he won't be living in a tent in Halifax much longer, but he is planning for the worst.

Stewart has been living in Meagher Park on Chebucto Road, now dubbed the People's Park, for more than two months.

The Nova Scotia government promised $10.1 million on Wednesday for wraparound supports, shelters, emergency options like hotel stays, coinciding with a new strategy of building more affordable housing and extending the two per cent rent cap until Dec. 31, 2023.

"I think that works for a lot of people, in the short term, be a little more secure and feel a little safer," Stewart said about more hotels being available.

"It's just how long, and then what are they going to do after for housing and stuff."

Stewart said he's doing OK at the moment but hoping a better place comes up for him soon now that the past few nights have gotten cold.

Assistance rates should increase: Stewart

The park residents now have some hand warmers for the short term, he said, and are looking for heavier cold-weather blankets, or maybe a warming hut, to keep people safe until they're able to move into a hotel or other option.

One major way to cut down on homelessness would be having the province pay a "reasonable" amount for people's rent and power, Stewart said. His monthly income assistance is only $535 for rent, which is nowhere near enough to afford Halifax market prices.

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. 

The province has set aside $1.3 million for these emergency, short-term hotel stays with 24/7 support for people temporarily living in hotels, which advocates say is the real key to keeping people housed.

Jim Graham is the executive director of Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia. (CBC)

Jim Graham, executive director of Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, said addictions and mental health supports are big pieces. But so are having nurses on hand to help with things like foot sores, diabetes or high blood pressure.

"Being able to actually have somebody look at what's in front of them and refer to a doctor. Those things are absent now, and they're crucial," Graham said.

Jeff Karabanow, a professor of social work at Dalhousie University and co-founder of Out of the Cold shelter, said a new research study he helped run shows that the hotel model works.

The study examined homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic focusing on the Halifax and Cape Breton regional municipalities, speaking with service providers and those experiencing homelessness.

Jeff Karabanow is a professor at Dalhousie University and one of the directors of the Dalhousie Social Work Community Clinic. (CBC)

In Cape Breton, four comfort centres were opened to provide basic needs like washrooms, showers, laundry and a bit of human connection. In Halifax, some hotels started a harm reduction initiative where they provided regular doses of alcohol to those with alcohol addiction.

The study said "consistent, trustful partnerships between different organizations" really made the difference, and hotels provided a "more dignified, healthy, quick, and efficient way" to house people.

Karabanow said he's optimistic the province will follow through on its pledge around homelessness and wraparound services.

"These are things that we've been speaking to in the community landscape as well as in the academic landscape for years now," Karabanow said.

"To see that being at least adopted — to me I'm hopeful that we can push this a little bit further."

With files from Preston Mulligan