Housing Update #2

It’s been almost three weeks since my last Housing Update, so I wanted to let folks know about the work that is currently underway and recap the last few weeks of activity.

What’s happened since

At the last Council meeting on August 31 the motions I wrote about for Crisis Housing Funding (Mayor Savage August 31) and A Lived Experience Advisory Committee on Homelessness (Councillor Lovelace August 31) passed.

An additional motion regarding a Rapid Housing Initiative project for 60+ rooms in a renovated building in Dartmouth North was approved for $12.9 million dollars.  This much-needed space will likely not be available until mid-next year, so while good, does not solve today’s crisis.

Update on Meagher Park encampment – Between Monday, August 30 and Wednesday, September 1 Lindell and I both were contacted by folks involved with PADS and the encampment in Meagher Park and were asked for help and supports.

We were told that the park needed more support from agencies, social workers, and mental health professionals, and asked if we could assist in getting that.

Specifically, we were told it was unfair the governments were “downloading their problems onto a bunch of unpaid, untrained volunteers” and that “the space itself is increasingly unsafe and untenable.”

We were also told that PADS were “willing to leave the space (knowing also that school is returning next week, etc.) but to do so we need viable options. Our residents want the community and care and to not be abandoned. We have assured them wherever they are we will continue our care and support; they say the space feels like family.”

I contacted the Mayor and CAO and we had a series of meetings about trying to find a solution.  The solution was for HRM to rent the hotel and offer space to folks who wanted it.  The contract was for two weeks but staff felt they had assurances it would be able to be extended.  In the end, it was not.

When the contract was canceled after two weeks on September 15th, I am told there were eight people in the hotel.  One was relocated to a better option for that individual by a service provider, two people were asked to leave by the hotel, three individuals had been offered and accepted alternate accommodations, one individual had their own apartment (and did prior to living in the hotel), and one individual is not engaging with any of the options available at this time.

Who told me this?  HRM staff were told this by service providers.  Again, HRM has no front-line staff, and really the Province does not either.  The Province delivers these vital community services through a network of not-for-profits who get annual funding and project funding (and not enough of it, as I wrote the leaders during the election).

In this case I contacted a service provider and a key staffer and both said “those numbers are right to the best of our knowledge”.

I THINK WE LEARNED AN IMPORTANT LESSON – HRM should not act directly on these matters. HRM should not have rented hotel rooms as we have no way to run them,no staff to take care of the people in them. Lindell, Mayor Savage and I wanted to help PADS and help these houseless residents into a better solution as quickly as possible.  We pushed for action and got the hotel rented.  And it didn’t really work.

HRM has to act THROUGH service providers, giving them money to rent hotels, apartments, hire staff for these emergencies, otherwise the staff and supports that need to be there may not be there, and the long-term sustainability is not there.

HRM has also opened Grey Rink as a very temporary site for folks living rough to at least be out of the elements and have access to running water and power.  This is very much a stop gap measure that is only intended to be used for a week or two.

What Happens Next?

First up – following the Regional Council motion of August 31 on Emergency Supportive Housing and Shelter Accommodation a proposal was been received from a group of community service providers including Adsum for Women & Children, the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, North End Community Health Centre / MOSH Housing First, Out of the Cold Community Association, Phoenix Youth Programs, Welcome Housing, YWCA Halifax, and the Street Navigators. Staff has had several meetings with a group to review the proposal and jointly plan the next steps.

In meetings with this group, two broad priorities have emerged:

  1. ensuring better coordination between HRM and service providers, and among community service providers, in responding to emerging and urgent issues with homelessness and
  2. identification of an immediate plan peacefully and voluntarily close the encampment at Chebucto/Dublin.

This is contingent on relationships being maintained between service providers and volunteers and successful identification of temporary indoor accommodations by the service providers.  We hope to see this move forward next week.

As has been the case for the past two weeks, service providers are continuing to try to identify and work with those of the 18 residents at Chebucto/Dublin who require housing support and staff, service providers, and provincial contacts are working to identify hotels that have availability and are willing to accept residents from this site.

Second is that in the medium term, HRM staff have identified a couple of potential sites for temporary housing and are assessing the appropriateness of use for this purpose, as well as the potential costs to refit, lease, etc. If options are confirmed, the service provider group will be engaged to determine the possibility of organizations providing staff support. If required, some of the $500,000 identified by Council could be used to assist service providers in delivering services and support at these sites.

Finally, it is critical that the Province be a partner in all of these measures.  Mayor and CAO have met with some of the new Ministers to press this point.

In the next update, I will provide details on where the various remaining actions in the HRM Affordable Housing Work Plan stand and my attempts to meet with the new Provincial Ministers about the crisis.