Nova Scotia

'People have nowhere to go': Demand for tents in Sydney grows amid housing crisis

A growing demand for tents as primary accommodations has advocates calling for more affordable housing options in Sydney, N.S. One non-profit group has given out more than 50 tents this year, and they still need more.

One non-profit group has given out 50 tents this year

A small tent encampment pictured on Windsor Street in Halifax, Nov. 6, 2021. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)

Some advocates are calling for more affordable housing options in Sydney, N.S., as a growing number of people seek tents as their primary accommodations. 

One non-profit group has given out more than 50 tents this year to people experiencing homelessness, and they still need more. 

Christine Porter is executive director at the Ally Centre of Cape Breton. She said the organization has given out double the number of tents compared to last year, and she expects that to increase. 

"People have nowhere to go. And frankly, a tent is their only option at this point in time," Porter said. "Some people choose to go camping, right? This isn't a choice."

Christine Porter, executive director of the Ally Centre of Cape Breton, says affordable housing options are needed for those experiencing homelessness. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

In Sydney, people are living in tents in parking lots and between trees.

Porter said the growing demand for temporary shelters like tents is indicative of a housing crisis that needs to be addressed. 

"That's just going to escalate, especially once the students all hit and rooming houses are full and weather is getting colder," she said. 

Housing crisis

Erika Shea is CEO of New Dawn Enterprises, a non-profit community housing provider. 

She's not surprised by the growing demand for tents.

"We have a very low vacancy rate. We have an incredible demand for housing, especially affordable housing, and there are no new developments underway," Shea said. 

Erika Shea, president and CEO of New Dawn Enterprises, says tent encampments are a call to address the lack of affordable and safe housing in the community. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Shea said homelessness in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality used to be invisible, but that era has long passed. 

She said until new housing developments are built, people will increasingly live in urban forests and public parks.

"It's a call to all of us to seriously contend with the lack of affordable and safe housing in our community."

Last year, a study found that 419 people in eastern Nova Scotia were experiencing some form of homelessness.

About 265 of those were adults and children in the CBRM, and more than half aged 16 or older were living with mental illness and/or addiction. 

Groups to seek funding

The Ally Centre and New Dawn are working together to apply for funding under Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's Rapid Housing Initiative, which is targeted at smaller cities and more rural communities. 

They want to build a small, 12-unit housing development specifically for those living with substance use disorder and who are vulnerable when it comes to securing housing. 

Porter said the CBRM needs all-inclusive, supportive, harm-reduction housing. "Other places are doing it. We're not —and we need to." 

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