The ‘heartbreaking’ work of Halifax’s street navigators — and the difference they can make

Click to play video: 'Halifax street navigator speaks out on ‘heartbreaking’ homelessness crisis'
Halifax street navigator speaks out on ‘heartbreaking’ homelessness crisis
WATCH: An outreach worker helping people sleeping rough in Halifax says the housing crisis is an emergency. He says as winter weather settles into the region, more support is needed. Skye Bryden-Blom reports. – Dec 11, 2023

Lucas Goltz has a difficult job.

As the program co-ordinator for Halifax’s navigator outreach program, his job involves reaching out to people on the street and trying to help them find shelter – or find whatever they can to make living outside a little easier.

In an interview from Halifax’s Grand Parade, Goltz described the situation on the ground as “rough.”

“We’ve got 30 tents here, pretty close to the most tents that we’ve had down here,” he said, adding that it’s a similar case at nearby Victoria Park.

While some new, winterized tents are making a difference as the weather gets colder, the elements are still challenging.

Cold weather increases the risks of tent fires – as was seen over the weekend – so navigators are now working to equip those living in tents with electric heaters, which are less hazardous than propane.

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Lucas Goltz is the co-ordinator of downtown Halifax’s navigator outreach program. Skye Bryden-Blom/Global News

While Monday was relatively warm, high winds and heavy rain made for a difficult day to be living outside.

“People are still unhoused. There’s no place to put them,” Goltz said. “Our shelters are all full – and winter is still here regardless of what it feels like today.”

Goltz is part of a small team of outreach workers “spread out” across the municipality. While he’s proud of the “excellent” work they’re able to do with so few people, he wants more resources.

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“Being on the front lines, we see a lot of things that the rest of society doesn’t see, and it’s heartbreaking,” he said.

“Without the proper self-care – and also without proper funding in place to hire more people, and to have a bigger budget to help more people – the same hopelessness and despair that we see in our clients, and that we hear from our clients, it’s hard not to walk away and carry some of that with us.”

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Goltz recently took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to vent his frustrations with the city’s current housing situation.

“Shelters are all full. Frontline staff and volunteers maxed out, many burnt out. People living in tents in the winter. Another storm on its way,” he wrote.

“Hospitals and jails have to release people to tents. Despair and hopelessness is at all-time highs. This is an emergency.”

Goltz said that post was born from a “moment of frustration” with the growing crisis and the failure of the levels of government to address it.

“We are in an emergency right now,” he said. “Any of us that are on the front lines, we see it, and I think we’re just trying to amplify that message more and more.”

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‘None of us want to be here’

While Goltz’s job can be at times difficult and frustrating, it’s one that’s making a serious difference in the lives of those he helps.

“Thank God for Lucas,” said Roy Bussey, an unhoused man who recently found a place to stay at a Dartmouth-area shelter thanks to Goltz.

“He helped me get me and my girlfriend into the Bridge, and that was so nice.”

Bussey had been living in a tent for more than five months at Victoria Park when it burned down a couple of months ago. Within two nights, they had a spot at the Bridge.

“It was so nice and a relief, having somewhere to go,” he said. “I got back up and I kept going. I’m trying the best I can.”

Roy Bussey was able to find a safe place to stay thanks to Halifax’s street navigators. Skye Bryden-Blom/Global News

Bussey said people don’t want to live in tents, and is calling on the government to build more affordable housing.

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“Being on the streets is the hardest lifestyle you can live,” he said. “None of us want to be here. None of us like this.”

He is also calling for improvements to the mental health-care system, so fewer people are getting turned away from hospitals and back onto the streets.

“We all are human beings, we are all one,” he said.

As for Goltz, he said wins like this make it all worth it.

“We can work together to get some people off the street, like we just did this weekend where a woman showed up who was pregnant,” he said. “We were able to co-ordinate with Adsum House … and get her and her partner off the streets right away.”

But it would be easier to get wins if outreach workers had more resources to work with, Goltz noted.

“There’s just more work that needs to be done.”

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