Church group applies to HRM for extension to emergency shelter agreement

The archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth is seeking an extension on occupancy permits for its 20 emergency shelters on church grounds, suggesting there is nowhere else for those experiencing homelessness to go at this time.

“Obviously these emergency shelters are not the solution,” John Stevens, crisis emergency shelter coordinator with the archdiocese.

“No one thinks that an eight-by-eight space is a permanent option for anybody, but I think if you had to compare that to a tent,” said Stevens. “I think it’s a win.”

There are 20 emergency shelters set up at churches in Nova Scotia, as part of a shelter program approved by the Halifax Regional Municipality, with 17 of the units located in Halifax and Dartmouth.

But the occupancy permits for these emergency shelters are set to expire on May 31. The church group is applying for an extension to allow those living in the portable shelters to stay longer.

“The hope was by the end of May, there would be enough time to be able to move individuals into a boarding house or transition home, or to an apartment,” said Stevens. “But as everyone knows in the city, there’s no place to go, there’s no supply.”

On Monday, Halifax police responded to a call of an alleged assault that occurred at an emergency shelter. It was set up in Dartmouth’s Starr Park earlier this week by an anonymous and volunteer-run housing group called Halifax Mutual Aid.

Police say a 31-year-old man is facing assault charges and threats to cause death following an alleged assault that sent a 65-year-old man to hospital, who police said, approached the shelter where an argument ensued.

“The senior, he has some broken bones, and the other fellow is now in the justice system and facing some charges, so it’s not a good outcome for either of them,” said Dartmouth-Centre councilor Sam Austin.

Halifax Mutual Aid set up the emergency crisis shelter in the Dartmouth park on the weekend, and say they will continue to set up shelters for those who are experiencing homelessness.

Austin says the placement of these emergency shelters at random locations with no community consultation by Halifax Mutual Aid creates dangerous situations.

“There are social supports and dynamics that also have to be taken into account,” said Austin. “Some locations are better suited than others and none of that happens, because they don’t work with anybody else and they go and drop these wherever they want.”

Austin says a staff report is coming to council next week that looks at ways of supporting housing-insecure people while establishing clearer rules around living in parks.

“Nobody should have to sleep in parks,” said Jeff Karabanow, co-director of the Dalhousie School of Social Work Community Clinic.

At last count, there were more than 550 people experiencing homelessness in Halifax, a number that keeps climbing.

“I think homelessness has always been an issue in this province, but it was more hidden prior to the pandemic,” said Karabanow.

He says it’s unfortunate the recent violent incident occurred outside a shelter in the park, but says it speaks more to the issue of a lack of safe and affordable housing.

“It’s unfair for those sleeping rough, and it’s unfair for those living around folks that are sleeping rough,” said Karabanow. “It’s a dynamic that is unhealthy for everybody.”

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