The tiny shelters that have been housing homeless on Halifax parish properties have been refitted with air conditioners as the program has been extended into warmer months. Photo courtesy Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth

Halifax extends shelter initiative through summer

By 
  • June 2, 2022

With an ever-growing housing crisis in Nova Scotia, the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth has extended its emergency shelter initiative.

Previously slated to end May 31, the three-month extension will take the program into the fall at which point it will be reassessed moving towards winter.

The archdiocese has been providing safe temporary emergency shelters to support the street entrenched population in need of housing in the region since late 2021. There are currently 20 single occupancy shelters on 14 sites on parish properties.

Housing shortages have been a major challenge for Nova Scotians, especially in Halifax. The province estimates the housing deficit in the Halifax region to be at least 17,000 units and growing. The archdiocese is currently working to get people on the list for coordinated access to housing and will decide later this year whether to increase the number of shelters or get new occupants. The program is supporting a wide spectrum of people living without housing for various reasons.

“Some are homeless because of mental illness and the inability to kind of interact regularly and some are homeless because there’s (no housing) available,” said John Stevens, manager of pastoral life and new evangelization. “We have people in our shelters who have jobs — maybe they work at Walmart or in a warehouse but can’t find an affordable apartment on the salaries that they’re making. We have a surprising number of seniors who are on fixed incomes and there’s no housing that they can afford either. We’ve got a number of people on lists for seniors’ apartments. So we really start to see a variety of reasons and each and every person needs a plan, care and attention based on who they are and their circumstances.”

While the program was a success for the winter, the archdiocese hasn’t been able to meet its secondary goal to secure affordable apartments for the occupants, said Stevens.

Stevens says running the shelters program has not only breathed new life into the archdiocese but has reinforced the need to keep combating homelessness as a top priority.

“I think it’s fine to think about homelessness as an issue but the more you start to get to know people by their names and by their situations it becomes even more real,” said Stevens. “It inspires us to see Christ in them and continue to serve Him as best we can. We are looking at new ways to do that not only by extending the shelters program, but looking at other areas and aspects of homelessness that we can get involved in.”

In early 2021 Archbishop Brian Dunn identified homelessness as one of the archdiocese’s pastoral priorities. Exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to support the most vulnerable without a place to live has only grown. In addition to providing shelters, the archdiocese has been looking at other ways of combating the issue financially, through supporting affordable housing and through advocacy.

The shelters were designed to provide warmth from the frigid winter temperatures, so organizers have had to do upgrades including the installation of air-conditioning to extend the shelters use into the summer months. The initial donations have funded the upgrades, said Stevens.

At the parishes, the people have gone above and beyond in terms of supporting the individuals living in the units.

“At different parishes people support in different ways,” said Stevens. “There’s been meals, grocery gift cards and different things like that. Just recently the Halifax Regional Municipality transit authority donated bus passes for individuals. We’re supporting them through donations, through the volunteer hours of our parishioners, and whatever else we can do.”

As the project has evolved the need for a dedicated staff person has grown. The archdiocese is hiring an emergency shelters project coordinator to provide supports and services to the volunteer parish coordinators and shelter occupants, as well as to promote and assist in guest transition from the shelters into more permanent housing.

Last year a diocesan team was put in place to assist with co-ordination, communication and steps for installation of shelters. Liability issues have been covered by the archdiocese’s insurance policy and a code of conduct is in place. Stevens says there have been some issues with the occupants which were quickly resolved. Since shelters are built on parish private property, permission to meet existing bylaws and zoning regulations is not required.

Shelters have been professionally designed in accordance with safety and municipal standards. Each unit has an 8’ x 8’ footprint with steel siding and is outfitted with a built-in bed, a heater, a single light fixture, a smoke detector and USB charge ports. The cost to build each was roughly $11,500 not including the design, building and delivery of the shelters.

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