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N.S. shelter organizer says province should act faster to provide housing for those in need

In Toronto, a pop-up shelter was opened at the Scotiabank Arena. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

There is only one remaining pop-up shelter set up by the province in Halifax, and soon that one will close too.

But advocates say that’s not the biggest problem.

In March, the provincial government started working with shelters on plans to provide safe housing, while reducing risks of COVID-19 exposure among vulnerable populations.

READ MORE: N.S. government working to address COVID-19 homelessness concerns

In collaboration with the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS), the province opened three pop-up shelters in Halifax. Their total capacity was 100 people.

Jim Graham, the director of AHANS, says homelessness rates have increased during the pandemic, by nearly 60 per cent.

He believes the province has not provided enough support to those without reliable housing.

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READ MORE: Halifax homelessness campaign turns Instagram’s ‘stay home’ sticker to ‘no home’

At the end of April, two of the shelters closed as residents moved into hotel rooms.

The third shelter, located at Citadel High School with a capacity of 25 residents, will be closing soon as well.

AHANS received around $1.5 million in support from the federal government back in March. The majority of the money went to pop-up shelter staff pay and hotel room fees.

Now, the group is running out of money.

Alongside the 25 people from the Citadel shelter, around 170 people in hotels will need to move out.

Graham says that will have the biggest impact.

With health regulations in place, Graham estimates operating shelters will lose an overall capacity of around 40 per cent.

From a capacity of 160, it could go down to 90 or 100, according to AHANS.

“We’d [still] have another 70 in hotels that we can’t put anywhere.”

READ MORE: Halifax’s Out of the Cold shelter changes model amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Graham says the province is planning on housing Citadel residents in community apartments, but he doesn’t know what will happen if they cannot find housing for everyone.

However, it’s on AHANS to house those in hotels, but this will be a struggle with no money.

“We are not going to get everybody house, that are in hotels, before the money runs out,” Graham says.

Once money does run out, people will be housed in shelters where space is available, while meeting the public health requirements.

“The rest of them are going to be out on the street,” he says.

“That is just not right on so many levels. It’s not a way people should be treated.”

Graham says the province should have contributed more money in the start.

The province pays for 19 of the hotel rooms used, and has now agreed to subsidize 125 apartments for housing, according to Graham.

“If that had been available in the first week in April, we not we may not be in the space that we are now.”

AHANS has sent an application to the federal government asking for additional funding to last them until the end of July.

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Graham hopes the province will act faster, and invest more in housing those in need before people are back on the streets.

Global News has reached out to the provincial government for comment.

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