Community organizers say lifting N.S. ban on renovictions will strain shelters
Shelter workers 'already tapped out,' according to United Way representative
Some community organizers are concerned that Nova Scotia's plan to lift the ban on renovictions this month will strain already tapped out shelter services.
In preparation, they're asking that more investments be made as soon as possible into wraparound services such as culturally relevant support systems, crisis-care case management, rental subsidies and shelter.
"We are trying to prepare for it, but the reality is I have a lot of community members right now that I can't house because I cannot find true affordable housing," Pam Glode-Desrochers, executive director of Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre, told a meeting of the legislature's community services committee Tuesday.
"These are real on-the-ground impacts that we're going to see, and I lose sleep over it and I know probably a lot of my staff lose sleep over these kinds of conversations."
Nova Scotia's ban on renovictions, a term used when a tenant's lease is ended to make way for renovations, has been in place since November 2020, but is expected to end when the province lifts its COVID-19 restrictions on March 21.
Colton LeBlanc, the minister responsible for the Residential Tenancies Act, has said changes to the legislation made last October will offer more protections to tenants.
But Kevin Hooper, manager of community development and partnerships for United Way, said ending the ban on renovictions is a misdirected effort.
Hooper said Halifax attracts roughly 3,500 households every year and has been for the past five years — something he doesn't see slowing down any time soon.
"We're producing 2,500 units of housing [annually], so we're short 1,000 units year over year, over the last five years," he told the committee.
There are 473 people in the Halifax region experiencing homelessness, according to the latest estimate.
Hooper said lifting the ban on renovictions is going to undoubtedly increase the amount of people needing wraparound services. He said shelter workers are "already tapped out."
"This is, you know, going to add a lot of challenges to an existing crisis," he said.
Linda Wilson, executive director of Shelter Nova Scotia, said the Housing Hub — a drop-in facility on Cunard Street established last year to provide guidance, as well as things like showers and laundry — has recently seen hundreds of people needing their services.
"In January alone, it supported 173 people, 74 of those individuals came just through the drop-in, so those people would have been people living outside."
'Near and dear to us'
Suzy Hansen, the NDP MLA for Halifax Needham, said she plans to take the concerns to the House of Assembly.
"This is near and dear to us as well, especially those of us who have the experiences."
Tracey Taweel, deputy minister for the Department of Community Services, said the department recognizes there is a need to address gaps that lead to homelessness, such as addictions and housing affordability, but there are staffing shortages that may be preventing the work.
Taweel said the department is currently working with the Office of Addictions and Mental Health and with the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing to design a supportive housing strategy for the province.
"This will include short and long-term initiatives and will move us away from emergency responses to an approach that is deliberate, preventative and planned," she said.