New homeless shelter to open next year in Sydney

The Nova Scotia government has committed annual funding of $618,000 once the shelter is up and running later in 2019.

Goal will be to help men, women and youth staying at the shelter find permanent housing

Fred Deveaux, executive director of the Cape Breton Community Housing Association, says there is a great need for the shelter in Sydney, especially for homeless women. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

A new shelter to be built in downtown Sydney, N.S., next year will offer more than just a safe place to sleep for men, women and children who have nowhere else to turn.

Some of the funding earmarked for the 14-room shelter will be focused on helping people find a place they can call home in the long term.

"We expect that homelessness be short and non-recurring and that the shelter be a process and not a destination," Fred Deveaux, executive director of the Cape Breton Community Housing Association, told a news conference Monday.

"Upon entry, we can start working with people immediately to find independent housing and find supports and services needed to maintain that housing."

The Nova Scotia government has committed annual funding of $618,000 once the shelter is up and running later in 2019. 

In the meantime, the province is investing $134,000 in renovations to Sydney's existing homeless shelter on Margaret Street to accommodate women.

From left to right: Fred Deveaux of the Cape Breton Community Housing Association, Liberal MLA Derek Mombourquette and CBU professor Catherine Leviten-Reid attend Monday's announcement in Sydney. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

"This is important to this community," said Derek Mombourquette, the Liberal MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier. "We need to make a strong commitment and we're making that commitment today."

Deveaux said beds are badly needed, especially for women. Hundreds of women without a place to live have been referred to his non-profit agency in the past few years, he said.

The new shelter, to open at 106 Townsend St., will have separate entrances and rooms for men and women. There will also be a separate section for youth.

The need for the shelter was highlighted by research that started several years ago in the community, including a study on affordable housing by Catherine Leviten-Reid, an associate professor of community economic development at Cape Breton University.

"We know that people of all types fall through the cracks, but we think it's particularly people who are by themselves and who are of working age," said Leviten-Reid. 

She said much of her research showed that people of that demographic don't have as many housing options. 

"The single person of working age who is not yet a senior, those folks aren't eligible to live in public housing," she said. "And there's a lot of not-for-profit housing that's targeted for seniors and families."

She said the new shelter will bridge some of that gap.

"All of us on this group understood there was a homelessness situation in Sydney, but we had no idea of the severity." - Father Bill Burke

The building for the new shelter was secured by a nine-member group that mostly wishes to remain anonymous.

One of its members, Father Bill Burke of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Parish in Sydney, said the group was shocked to discover the extent of the community's homelessness problem.

"All of us on this group understood there was a homelessness situation in Sydney, but we had no idea of the severity." 

He's hopeful of what the new shelter will provide. 

"It's a matter of respect and dignity and when people are broken — and homelessness is a very severe form of brokenness — and we can reach out and not just put a roof over their heads, but to help them put their lives back on track," said Burke.

"And that can only be done when they are in a place where their dignity is respected." 

About the Author

Norma Jean MacPhee

Reporter

From people around the corner to those around the world, Norma Jean MacPhee has more than a decade of experience telling their stories on the radio, TV and online. Reach Norma Jean at norma.jean.macphee@cbc.ca