Halifax council calls on province to keep emergency shelters open year round

اخبار العرب-كندا 24: الأربعاء 22 مارس 2023 09:27 مساءً

Halifax councillors are questioning the upcoming closure of an emergency shelter, and looking to better define the roles of both the municipality and the province around homelessness.

On Tuesday, Halifax Regional Municipality council agreed to write a letter to the province urging them to keep the overnight shelter at Christ Church in Dartmouth open or find another space.

The shelter, run by the non-profit group 902 Man Up with provincial funds, opened in December and was intended to be a temporary winter facility for men experiencing homelessness.

The lease was originally supposed to end on April 30, but the province extended it to May 31.

Deputy Mayor Sam Austin, a Dartmouth councillor, said the approach of only opening shelters during colder weather is "outdated" given the city's current housing and homeless crisis.

Robert Short/CBC

Robert Short/CBC

"There's no space to be had so why are we closing down spaces that exist?" Austin said.

"It's not appropriate to be closing seasonal spaces with the expectation that people will now go live in parks for the summer."

The Christ Church shelter hosts 10 to 18 guests nightly.

Christina Deveau, spokesperson for the Department of Community Services, said in an email that shelter staff will meet with residents over the next few weeks to help them find permanent or temporary housing.

"The department has a proven track record of providing supports to those experiencing homelessness and we will continue to do so," Deveau wrote.

Council's letter also asks that the province maintain the other two emergency shelters being funded in HRM, one in Lower Sackville and the other on North Park Street in Halifax.

Denise Schofield, deputy CAO of operations for Halifax, said the province has committed to keeping the North Park Street location open for "a longer period of time." Staff have also requested a meeting with community services to have formal discussions on the Dartmouth shelter and other locations.

Austin said he doesn't think a letter will change things overnight, but it's important to go on record that "we do not accept that this is an appropriate way to handle this issue anymore."

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Councillors also directed staff to explore memorandums of understanding with the province and other groups supporting people who are homeless.

Coun. Pam Lovelace first brought up the idea last year. She said while such agreements aren't binding contracts, the can help define responsibilities and get help to people who need it.

"When we speak to service providers there's so many gaps. They're not sure who to speak to, they don't know where to go, they need help," Lovelace said.

Paul Palmeter/CBC

Paul Palmeter/CBC

Although social services and subsidised housing are provincial responsibilities, there's some overlap with the city.

Coun. David Hendsbee said he'd like to see a clear statement on who should pay for which services, since provincial and federal dollars should be going to local projects.

"This is a unique time, it's a unique situation and I want to make sure that we're not taken advantage of," Hendsbee said.

Halifax recently passed a framework on homelessness that will form the basis for any agreement. HRM has set up designated park sites for people sleeping rough, and wants to partner with the province on a drop-in centre and more temporary shelters.

The framework said the number of people sleeping rough in Halifax has increased fivefold in the last four years, from 18 to around 108 people.


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