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Unhoused people in Halifax and the concerns about shelter safety

Click to play video: 'Some homeless people feel unsafe at Halifax shelters' Some homeless people feel unsafe at Halifax shelters
As Halifax faces an acute shortage of affordable housing, some experiencing homelessness have taken to living in small encampments around the city. Although for some it’s due to a lack in shelters, others say they do it for their own protection. Amber Fryday reports. – Jun 7, 2021

In the past couple of months, there have been several encampments set up in Halifax Metro. Some of the homeless shelters have met their capacity, forcing people to sleep outside. However, some unhoused people are choosing to sleep on the street because of their own individual concerns about shelters.

Tent encampments have long existed in bigger cities across Canada. Take Toronto, for instance. Since the pandemic began, Toronto has experienced a massive influx of unhoused people living in encampments across the GTA — something the East Coast of Canada does not typically see.

Oceaan Staardust is one of nearly 500 people in Halifax experiencing homelessness. But he doesn’t always feel safe staying in a shelter.

Read more: N.S. government working to address COVID-19 homelessness concerns

“Shelters are hot spots for a lot of violence. There can be stabbings at them. A lot of people possess and will use weapons in places like that because, again, when you have people that are mentally unhealthy, you have people that will resort to a less-than-ideal way of solving problems,” says Staardust.

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Jeff Karabanow, founder of Out of the Cold Emergency Shelter, agrees that sometimes protecting clients can be a challenge.

“When you bring a lot of people together who are suffering and who are experiencing a lot of trauma, you don’t know what could manifest,” says Karabanow.

However, safety issues in homeless shelters are not the only concern. Myles Haight, who has been experiencing homelessness for eight years, says he has different reasons for sleeping outside.

“I feel unsafe staying in homeless shelters because of people’s drug addiction and because of being a recovering alcoholic myself,” says Haight.

Read more: Nova Scotia invests $350K for more shelter beds in Halifax

Karabanow says the majority of those experiencing homelessness are dealing with a lot of personal challenges and very deep trauma.

“It’s so difficult to try to figure out how to survive and how to stay safe when you’re on a mat on the floor, you know, in a big gym,” says Karabanow.

Simba Ruto, who experienced homelessness on and off for 10 years, is now an advocate for homeless people.

“Lots of the people on the street are really, really good people. They are the people that have suffered the most in life and tend to be the most compassionate,” says Ruto.

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With changes due to the pandemic, Karabanow says shelters are now becoming much more trauma-informed and compassionate.

“A lot of staff are very, very aware of that and try to minimize and mitigate those triggers through some trauma-informed work but it is such a difficult environment when you have a diverse level of needs and a huge level of suffering among this population.”

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