PEI

Province opening 9 transitional housing beds after significant delays

After months of delays, a Charlottetown building purchased by the province is finally set to open next week as a transitional housing facility.

Province hopes to open more beds in the spring

The province had originally planned to open the former Smith Lodge building this summer and offer 28 transitional housing beds. (Steve Bruce/CBC News)

The former Smith Lodge building in downtown Charlottetown is finally set to open its transitional housing beds on Tuesday after months of delays.

The downtown building purchased by the province was initially planned to include 28 beds by this past summer but that goal was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, when it opens, nine transitional beds will be available for men experiencing homelessness.

"They may have been active, regular users of our shelter support systems, or they may be newly experiencing homelessness," said Shelley Cole, team lead on the P.E.I. government's housing action plan. 

The housing will help fill "a gap in the community in terms of providing supportive or transitional housing units ... that allows clients to live independently, but with support," Cole said. 

Trial run

Cole said the aim is to help people out of homelessness by working to build skills around things like meal planning, budgeting and employment opportunities.

'I would not say there's a demonstrated need for additional emergency shelter beds,' says Shelley Cole. 'I think the capacity we have with our existing supports is meeting the needs.' (Steve Bruce/CBC News)

"They are individuals who require support to live independently and be successful in the community," she said. 

"The programming that will be offered here is to help folks to regain those very important life skills that allow us to be good neighbours, good contributors to our community."

We have to actually spend money on this.— Hannah Bell

Earlier this month, Cole said Smith Lodge inadvertently had a bit of a trial run when Deacon House — an emergency shelter in Charlottetown for men with addiction issues — shut down temporarily because of furnace problems. They quickly moved into Smith Lodge. 

The repairs are now complete at Deacon House and Cole said the men returned to a week ago.

Keeping up with demand

As temperatures on the Island continue to drop, Cole said there should be enough shelter beds available to meet demand heading into the winter. 

"We certainly expect there'll be more capacity at our emergency shelter supports available as a result of this supportive housing option opening," she said.

"I understand all our shelters are operating below capacity currently, which means there are beds available if Islanders are in need."

But the Opposition's housing critic said she isn't as convinced. 

"We just need to look at how many people use the outreach centre every day," said Hannah Bell. "There are sometimes as many as 50 and we only have 20odd beds in Charlottetown."

'Government has to remain accountable, because these are Islanders and Islanders' health that we're responsible for,' says Opposition MLA Hannah Bell. 'We'd really like to see some transparency.' (Steve Bruce/CBC News)

Bell said there is not just a need for more beds but also newer buildings. 

"Deacon House — it's great that it's open again, but — it is a building in really dire need of frankly being replaced," she said. "Smith Lodge is the same. It's not designed for what it's used for. We have to actually spend money on this."

'Nobody accountable'

Bell said a more co-ordinated effort by the government is also required to ensure existing shelters meet a high, consistent standard. 

"There's no central accountability anywhere," she said. "All these shelters and houses are managed by different government departments that don't talk to each other.

"There's no co-ordination of services, and nobody accountable."

Cole maintains her department works with the various groups and agencies that run the province's shelters to ensure they are providing the right supports. 

"We work very closely with our community partners on a daily, weekly, monthly basis," said Cole. 

She said the province hopes to open up another dozen transitional housing beds sometime in the spring.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Steve Bruce

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