Halifax Regional Council adopts new plan to support growing homeless population

Mike Babineau sleeps soundly in Halifax.  He said he wants the government and the people of the city to treat him like any other human being.  (Rob Short/CBC - photo credit)

Mike Babineau sleeps soundly in Halifax. He said he wants the government and the people of the city to treat him like any other human being. (Rob Short/CBC – photo credit)

Mike Babineau wants to be seen and treated like a fellow human being – with dignity and having his basic needs met.

“We are people like them,” he said.

Babineau has been sleeping outdoors in Halifax since November. He came here from Moncton, where he said his tent was routinely destroyed or thrown away.

When he heard about the possibility of a permanent day center in the Halifax Regional Municipality, he was glad the area was trying to provide more support for the homeless.

“It’s hard to have a place where you can warm up and have food and coffee and stuff and maybe take a shower and wash your clothes. It’s a big help for people like us.”

Halifax Regional Council on Tuesday adopted a plan to further address the crisis facing people affected by homelessness, including adding utilities to designated shelters and establishing the drop-in center.

But some advocates — and even the city employees who wrote the plan — said it may not be enough to address the growing problem.

The plan, A framework to tackle homelessness, reported on 790 people currently experiencing homelessness in HRM, including people in shelters, vehicles and those sleeping. The number of people sleeping outdoors has quintupled in the last four years, from 18 to about 108 people.

Mayor Mike Savage said during the council debate that homelessness is the biggest problem facing cities across the country.

“We must let people know that there is no city if people have no place to live in it, and that is our responsibility,” he said.

Rob Kurz/CBC

Rob Kurz/CBC

The drop-in center is one of the largest projects in the plan and would provide, among other things, daily meals, showers, connections to service providers and a place to escape the weather.

Max Chauvin, the ward’s housing and homelessness director, told councilors that demand for these day-to-day services is high because one of the nonprofit shower facilities has a two-week waiting list.

The framework also includes hiring an additional street navigator to connect with people in need of assistance.

Financing will be discussed at budget meetings in the spring.

The community must more than double its current budget for homeless initiatives just to maintain the current level of service. Employees estimate the cost of the new initiatives would be nearly $800,000 in addition to existing funding, and funding for the new road navigator position is considered separately.

Councilors reiterated their frustration at the province’s lack of funding to deal with the crisis and will only fund the start-up center if the province agrees to share the costs.

Chauvin told councilors that the number of people without shelter is increasing so rapidly that the new plan may not be enough to meet rising needs.

And if the province’s rent cap is allowed to expire later this year, HRM could have another 500 to 1,000 people homeless within months, according to Chauvin.

Rob Kurz/CBC

Rob Kurz/CBC

“Worse Before It Gets Better”

A committee of people who have experienced homelessness and several service providers were consulted for the framework, including United Way Halifax.

Sue LaPierre, head of social impact strategy at the organization, said she’s glad to see the consultation underway and thinks it’s a good step forward. Still, more needs to be done.

“I think there’s still room for improvement because the problems are huge and we’re not up to speed yet,” LaPierre said.

She said the rapid increase in homeless people she’s seen in the HRM is due in large part to a lack of affordable and non-profit housing. Many people are affordable for homes that are on the market, she said, but building an affordable housing stock takes time.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” she said. “We must do this now and continue to look for other solutions.”


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