Over the past three months, a local women and children’s housing charity has spent $50,000 on hotel rooms, as shelter space in the Halifax region is hard to find during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adsum for Women & Children executive director Sheri Lecker says this is a new expense for the charity organization that’s been operating since 1983 and provides housing supports to women and families who are homeless and lack resources.
Safe shelter space has been at a premium during the COVID-19 pandemic and especially during the cold winter months, and so Lecker said they’ve had no choice to but rent hotel rooms to keep people from having to sleep on the streets, amid the brutal winter conditions.
“We just started booking hotel rooms, in part because people were either calling or coming up to the door and asking for a place to stay and we were full and so was everybody else,” said Lecker.
Adsum supports on average more than 125 people a night, and during the pandemic they started helping other charities as well. Lecker says they couldn’t say “no” to anybody and so the charity was putting people up in hotels, who they otherwise wouldn’t be supporting.
“It’s a stop-gap measure,” said Lecker. “It kept people safe and it kept people inside.
Renting out hotel rooms is an immediate harm reduction approach, said Lecker, and a move necessary to keep people safe from the elements, but it’s not a medium or long-term solution and nor is it economically feasible for the charity to continue doing.
When Lecker looked at the financial statements, she was a little surprised by how quickly the hotel tabs skyrocketed.
“It came to the end of our fiscal year, that’s really what kind of rang the bell,” said Lecker. “I looked at the numbers and I said ‘that’s a lot of money in a very short time,’ we were filling the gap and it was day-to-day.”
Adsum wasn’t going to turn anyone away, either, and they said “yes” to those needing shelter as often as they could.
NDP MLA and housing critic Lisa Roberts applauded Adsum for stepping up, but says it shouldn’t be charities left on the hook and forking over thousands of dollars to cover the bill for emergency shelter space during a state of emergency. Instead, Roberts said, the provincial government should be the one coming forward with solutions and financial support.
“The provincial government needs to take action and the provincial government has the resources available,” said Roberts, MLA for Halifax Needham. “Unlike charitable organizations, that could be putting this money, and I’m sure they would rather be putting this money towards long-term permanent housing solutions for families which is what Adsum does so well.”
In the meantime, Adsum for Women and Children is preparing to build a 25 unit permanent housing complex in the community of Lakeside and is part of an agreement with the Halifax Regional Municipality and the Federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative.
Adsum has received $4 million federal funding for the housing project but is on the hook to raise $1 million of their money to cover the remainder of the construction costs, and the $50,000 spent on hotels could have gone towards that goal.
Lecker said spending the money on hotels was the right thing to do at the time, “but now that’s money we have to raise again.”
In January the province launched the Affordable Housing Commission, a task force that was formed to investigate and give recommendations to the province about affordable housing strategies and courses of action.
Lecker says there’s already a stack of reports with answers.
“We’ve had a lot of reports over the years, what we need is action,” said Lecker. “We need investment and we need non-market housing for people to meet them where they are, at rents they can afford.”
The findings from the Affordable Housing Commission are due this summer.