The past few months of winter have been significantly challenging for an emergency shelter with one main objective: providing refuge to people in need of housing.
“It seemed like it was going to be the perfect fit for us, the house was beautiful and then a week in, we had a pipe burst and lots of flooding and destruction of all our stuff and we had to close down,” Jeff Karabanow said, one of the co-founders of the Out of the Cold emergency shelter.
During months with frigid temperatures and blustery winds, having an emergency shelter be forced to close creates a desperate challenge for vulnerable populations in need of a place to escape the weather.
Scrambling for a temporary solution, Karabanow says the municipality found the shelter an interim solution for one weekend, the Needham Community Centre in Halifax’s north end.
That weekend quickly passed and Karabanow says they were once again searching for a temporary fix to open their doors.
The Brunswick Street Mission stepped in for two weeks while the search continued.
That’s when the community-based organization caught a break and will now be housed in the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre.
“We’re actually going to move to the Native Friendship Centre on Gottingen Street. So, we’re really lucky again to maintain that partnership with the Friendship Centre and also to be downtown again,” Karabanow said.
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For 10 years, the shelter was housed out of the basement of St. Matthew’s Church in downtown Halifax before the time came to find a new space.
Karabanow says the demand for shelter beds constantly outweighs the capacity.
“All the other shelters are doing great work as well, are at capacity and that’s why Out of the Cold is still a meaningful and significant program. We need that overflow of beds. So, in the winter time it’s dire, we have to get people out of the streets and every night we are full,” he said.
Karabanow says the real issue at hand is why people are in need of emergency shelters to begin with. He points to an ‘affordable housing crisis’ as the leading cause for people constantly burdened with the feeling of ‘no place to go.’
“It’s almost impossible these days to find affordable and safe spaces for them to live. So, the shelters have become, really, the last resort and they should not be the response to homelessness. We should be looking at more affordable, more sustained housing and the city and the province have to be much more involved,” he said.
Since 2011, the municipality has outlined annual financial contributions to the shelter given through the community grants program.
The grant money averages out to a couple thousand dollars each year, used for a variety of upgrades from washrooms, to new appliances and plumbing.
Increasing options for affordable housing is one of the objectives of the upcoming Centre Plan.
That objective aims to be achieved through incentives for developers and ‘streamlined development approval processes.’
According to a city report, affordable housing is generally defined as shelter costing less than 30 per cent of a household’s before tax income.