PEI

Charlottetown men's shelter filled to capacity as intake increases 'dramatically'

Matthew Paugh washes his dishes in the kitchen at Bedford MacDonald House, part of his daily routine at the men's shelter in Charlottetown, where he has been living for about a month and a half. It's been a difficult year for Paugh, but even so, he said he feels lucky. 

All 12 beds at Bedford MacDonald House have been filled nearly every night this summer

Matthew Paugh has been staying at Bedford MacDonald House for about a month and a half. With the shelter filled to capacity, he feels lucky to have a bed. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Matthew Paugh washes his dishes in the kitchen at Bedford MacDonald House, part of his daily routine at the men's shelter in Charlottetown, where he has been living for about a month and a half.

It's been a difficult year for Paugh, but even so, he said he feels lucky. 

"I know that I have a bed to sleep in whenever I come home. I call it a home, because it's Bedford House, but it feels very much like a home," said Paugh.

Paugh has a locker to store his belongings, and sleeps in a small, tidy room with two other men. For the last several months, all 12 beds at the shelter have been occupied nearly every night, as staff deal with a huge increase in men showing up at the door. 

Numbers 'dramatically increased'

In early 2019, Bedford MacDonald House saw an average of 53 bed occupancies per month. In late spring, those numbers started to jump. 

"Now we've seen the uptake numbers to be about 365 per month. So it's dramatically increased, and as such it puts strain and stress on the house as well," said residential manager Mike Redmond. 

The beds at Bedford MacDonald House have been filled nearly every night this summer. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

With all the beds typically filled, Redmond said the shelter has to turn a few dozen people away each month. 

"It's certainly not something we want to do, but you can only put so many men in one house, and it's a situation that tells you the state of society today."

He said the number of people who come into the shelter during the day has also increased.

"That used to be a trickle, like one or two a week, and now it's seven to 10 a day who are chronically homeless." 

Longer stays

In May of this year, the province announced $355,500 in annual funding to Bedford MacDonald House. With that, came changes to intake protocol.

Previously, men were allowed to stay at the shelter for a maximum of seven days within a 30 day period. Now, that's gone up to 21 days. But in practice, staff said many stay longer, if they haven't yet been able to find adequate housing. 

Guests also no longer have to check in each day, wondering if there will be a bed available. Once they're admitted, they can keep the same bed until they leave. 

Mike Redmond said the number of people staying at Bedford MacDonald House has 'dramatically increased' in the last few months. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Redmond said that assurance alleviates some stress, and helps men focus on health, wellness, and finding suitable housing. 

Part of the focus at the shelter is also on social activities, such as barbecues, and outings to play baseball or see a show. 

Staff at Bedford MacDonald House help guests search for jobs and apartments, and also focus on building community, and helping men access services they might need. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Paugh said he has felt the sense of community fostered by the staff. 

"They're basically family here. Every one of them has shown me my value."

Fears for colder weather 

Redmond said the men staying at Bedford MacDonald House may not fit people's stereotypes of those who stay in shelters. For example, he said about half the guests are employed. 

That includes Paugh, who works as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. He ended up at the shelter after losing more than one apartment, and he said he's struggled to find anything else in his price range. 

Bedford MacDonald House has capacity to sleep up to 12 men each night. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Looking at apartment listings, he said it can be hard to feel optimistic.

"With the availability, I don't know. It's very tricky to wonder where I'm going to be at in three months. It's kind of scary."

With vacancy rates close to zero per cent, Redmond said it is a big challenge to find housing for guests, and as the end of summer draws closer, Redmond said he's worried too.

"It's the one thing that keeps me up at night, is the thought of where a person's going to be in November and December," said Redmond.

"The cold is something we are very, very fearful of."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah MacMillan is a reporter with CBC Sudbury. She previously worked with CBC P.E.I. You can contact her at sarah.macmillan@cbc.ca

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