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Halifax politician shares his homelessness story to spur action and address the issue

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia MLA shares story of homelessness amid housing crisis' Nova Scotia MLA shares story of homelessness amid housing crisis
WATCH: The issue of affordable housing and homelessness continues to dominate talks at the Nova Scotia legislature. One Liberal MLA has shared his story of being homeless to spur on government action to address the issue. Jesse Thomas has more. – Oct 22, 2021

Halifax Atlantic MLA Brendan Maguire knows what it’s like to be homeless, having spent time during his teens living on the streets.

The Liberal opposition MLA shared his personal story during the opening session of the legislature at Province House last week, as a way to rally and call on all parties to do more the address the housing and homelessness crisis.

“I wasn’t going to do this but I’ll use my own personal experience,” said Maguire. “I have been homeless and I didn’t care who was in power. The only thing I cared about was what apartment lobby am I going to sleep in.”

Read more: N.S. to maintain rent control until December 2023 under new legislation

Maguire said his biological parents abandoned him and his siblings when he was just four years old and he grew up in multiple foster homes and during his teens lived on the streets of Halifax.

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At the time, Maguire said he felt hopeless and that nobody cared.

Now, the former cabinet minister is using his experiences for good, saying he wants to work with the new PC government to make sure they tackle the housing and homelessness crisis head-on. He says he’s never seen the situation this dire.

“If you talk to the service providers, they’ve never seen it like this before,” said Maguire. “The shelters are full. I mean, they are at complete capacity.”

Maguire says the province has the infrastructure and resources available to come up with some quick solutions and says the Halifax Regional Municipality is waiting to partner and help get those experiencing homelessness into safer shelter spaces.

“I think one of the greatest things a provincial government or local government could do is eliminate homelessness,” said Maguire.

Premier Tim Houston and the PC government released its housing and homelessness plan on Wednesday. It includes 10 million in spending to provide wrap-around supports for homeless support organizations and shelters.

The PCs also announced that rent control will continue until Dec. 31, 2023, under new legislation being brought forward, while the interim residential rent-cap legislation will limit residential rent increases to two per cent per year to protect tenants.

It’s a change in direction for the premier who said in August that he doesn’t believe extending rent control past the state of emergency brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is a solution to the housing crisis.

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Maguire applauded the plan but said he’ll continue to hold the party to its word and make sure actions are made to improve the situation for the homeless population.

“It’s a very ambitious plan but I’d like to know what’s going to happen if, and I hope not, but if some of this stuff doesn’t come to fruition,” he said.

“Like where are the hotels and wrap-around services going?”

The Halifax Regional Municipality says at last count there are more than 400 people experiencing homelessness.

Maguire says the government needs to do more and admits his party could have done more when they were in office.

“We did a lot of great things, but more could have been done and more should be done,” said Maguire.

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The father of three said it took some courage to share his homeless story, but he’s proud he did and so are others.

“I actually had a couple of people I met in care reach out to and a lot of other people have reached out to me as well,” said Maguire, who said he had felt embarrassed and regret for the way he grew up.

Read more: Nova Scotia’s housing plan hailed by non-profits as an ‘impressive’ first step

Speaking about his challenges with homelessness is a way to drum up attention to the issue and a way to use his lived experience to spur political action.

“I don’t want people just to see me for that but a larger part of me thinks that people need to know that, and see no matter what your background, you can become and be whatever you want,” said Maguire.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life but I’ve learned from them.”

Statistically, Maguire says he shouldn’t be here.. Given the situation he’s in now, he’s grateful for the supports he did receive and wants to find ways to end the homelessness crisis now.

“I kind of look around and say if I don’t help, then I’ve kind of wasted my opportunity.”

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