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Concerns raised over province’s use of hotels as emergency housing

Concerns raised over Nova Scotia’s use of hotels as emergency housing
WATCH: About half a dozen families on social assistance who have been living at a Dartmouth Hotel were evicted Friday. The Department of Community Services uses hotels for emergency housing but concerns are being raised about the practice. Alicia Draus reports.

About half a dozen families who had been temporarily living at the Travelodge Suites spent Friday morning packing up their belongings and preparing to move to yet another temporary housing situation.

“There’s no stability for my children at the moment. As much as I’m trying to give it to them, they just took it away from us,” said Mikki Rhyno, one of several residents on social assistance being housed at the hotel.

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READ MORE: ‘They’re basically giving us the boot’: Dartmouth hotel terminates reservations with social assistance guests

The “they” she’s referring to is the management at the Travelodge.

On Wednesday, hotel management taped notices to their doors, informing them they would have to be out by noon on Friday. On Thursday General Manager Andrew Moore told Global the hotel had decided to “cut ties” with the department of community services.

Although Moore told Global he had informed the department earlier in the week, those being kicked out say that’s not what their case workers are saying.

READ MORE: Halifax advocates criticize ‘inadequate’ income assistance increase kicking off in 2020

“I just spoke with my social worker this morning, she said ‘we didn’t find out till after you did,'” said Rhyno.

Rebecca Sparks is another person being forced out, she too says her case worker was not informed ahead of time.

“I asked her, she said no,” said Sparks.

Moore did not show up to work on Friday and did not respond to emails from Global.

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It’s unclear what type of agreement the department of community services has with hotels they use for emergency housing, and if any concrete contracts are in place.

“I’m not sure,” said Kelly Regan, Minister for Community Services when pressed for answers.

But those affected say to be suddenly uprooted isn’t right.

“Our bills have been paid, there hasn’t been complaints that we know of,” said Rhyno.

READ MORE: Short-term rentals impacting Halifax’s rental market

“[To] discriminate against people that are on social services because of whatever circumstances that are there, you just can’t, you can’t do that. That’s human rights.”

Community legal worker with Dalhousie’s Legal Aid clinic Mark Culligan says she’s right.  Source of income is a protected characteristic and so Travelodge can’t kick out guests just because they’re on social assistance.

“It’s illegal according to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. It’s a form of discrimination,” said Culligan.

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“However the Human Rights Act is not a fast process, and it doesn’t have very strong teeth.”

READ MORE: $88M invested in joint Nova Scotia’s Affordable Housing Action Plan

Culligan acknowledges that it’s common for the province to put people up in hotels, with the low vacancy rate it’s happening more, but he says it is a problem.

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“It’s an example of the government making side deals with private businesses to provide emergency housing and those private arrangements with for-profit companies do not make economic sense,” said Culligan.

Instead, Culligan says the province needs to address the housing crisis. Currently, Halifax’s vacancy rate is sitting at just 1 per cent. That’s lower than Toronto and Vancouver and many say it’s the crux of the problem.

READ MORE: Halifax’s rental vacancy is now below Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver: study

“When we have a low vacancy rate, rents go up, and the victims of this are people in the lowest income bracket,” said NDP MLA Susan Leblanc.

“More and more people are facing eviction because they simply can’t pay the rents that landlords are asking for.”

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Leblanc says alternative arrangements have been made for the families that were at the Travelodge, most at other hotels, but she says that’s good enough and the province needs to do more to tackle the actual issue of affordable housing.

“The solution  is to make sure the people can afford to pay their rent in the first place,” she said.

“So substantially increasing income assistance rates, make sure people have access to well paying jobs that provide living wages and making sure that rents can’t exorbitantly raise, so through a system of rent control.”

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