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Halifax council approves funding for new modular units after those promised were ‘not suitable’ for unhoused people

Click to play video: 'Halifax to buy new modular units for unhoused after those secured ‘not suitable’' Halifax to buy new modular units for unhoused after those secured ‘not suitable’
WATCH: Halifax is looking to purchase new modular housing units to shelter unhoused people after it was determined that the ones they were going to buy are “not suitable for the intended purpose.” Alexa MacLean explains – Nov 9, 2021

Halifax regional council unanimously voted to direct the CAO to spend up to $3.2 million to purchase, install and maintain modular units for unhoused people at two sites in the municipality.

The move comes 12 weeks after occupants were violently evicted from makeshift shelters in downtown Halifax and more than a month after the city first touted its plan to provide 24 modular housing units, which would have housed up to 73 people.

The city said last month it was finalizing its plans and HRM homelessness manager Erica Fleck said she was hopeful that they would be up and running within weeks.

Read more: HRM in final stages of finalizing Dartmouth location for 1st round of modular housing units

But ahead of a regional council meeting Tuesday morning, Coun. Waye Mason tweeted that the units the city planned to purchase were “not suitable for the intended purpose.”

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Mason said HRM staff became aware of this “sometime before” Nov. 1. It’s unclear why it took more than a week for this information to be made public as the weather grows colder and hundreds of people in Halifax remain unhoused.

He said the project will be delayed by another two to four weeks and a formal update will be given later this week.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, Mason called the delay “heartbreaking” and “crushing.”

“We’re all concerned about the turn of the weather and we’re all aware that it’s below zero at night, and nobody is satisfied with that,” he said. “But it’s also, given the scope of what we’re trying to do … I actually think it’s gone remarkably smoothly.”

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Read more: Halifax council admits ‘some things did go wrong’ in encampment eviction

Mason said the city is providing emergency shelter at the Gerald B. Gray Memorial Arena in Dartmouth and invited unhoused people to stay there in the meantime.

The aim is to have the new modular units up and running “hopefully before it snows.” Mason said he will go to bed “thinking warm thoughts about warm weather.”

Click to play video: 'Modular units coming to Halifax area for unhoused population' Modular units coming to Halifax area for unhoused population
Modular units coming to Halifax area for unhoused population – Oct 10, 2021

The new units

The units, which will be at sites in Halifax and Dartmouth, will provide housing for 60 people in total, fewer than the 73 initially promised.

According to the Affordable Housing Association, as of Aug. 10, 400 people were homeless in the municipality.

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The city is finalizing a location for modular units at Flotilla Lane/Alderney Drive/Church Street in Dartmouth to accommodate clients of the Out of the Cold Shelter, who are currently staying at the Gray Arena. It said staff are working to identify and secure a site in Halifax to install modular units as well.

A site plan for the proposed modular units in Dartmouth. Halifax Regional Municipality

Costs for the purchase, installation and maintenance at the Dartmouth site, which would house 24 people, is pegged at $1,410,000, with operating costs of $20,000 in 2021-22. The purchase, installation and maintenance of the Halifax site, which would house 36 people, is estimated at $1,690,000 with the same operating costs as the Dartmouth site.

The city was initially planning to spend $240,000 on the units before those secured were determined to be unsuitable.

In September, regional council approved $500,000 for emergency housing measures to be developed for people who are forced to sleep in parks due to a lack of affordable housing options.

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Of that, $161,000 has been spent in September and October on hotel rooms and shelter placement and the municipality expects to spend another $290,000 before the year’s end.

Read more: Petition launched for independent investigation into Halifax police actions during shelter evictions

During council’s discussion Tuesday, Coun. Paul Russell echoed Mason’s sentiments about the delay.

“To say that it is simply heartbreaking is not good enough,” he said.

“We were anticipating spending a certain amount of money and we now have to multiply that by quite a bit, and that’s fine.

“This is not something that we should be doing as part of our council mandate, but it is a human responsibility and so I have no problem trying to address this.”

Click to play video: 'HRM council admits to flaws in police-led shelter evictions, commits to funding interim emergency solutions' HRM council admits to flaws in police-led shelter evictions, commits to funding interim emergency solutions
HRM council admits to flaws in police-led shelter evictions, commits to funding interim emergency solutions – Aug 31, 2021

Russell, who represents the Lower Sackville region, noted that there are people struggling with housing outside of the urban centre and asked if there were any plans to expand the modular units to more parts of the municipality.

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The city’s chief administrative officer, Jacques Dubé, said the city is looking to focus on areas of HRM where the crisis is more acute.

The CAO, along with several councillors, said housing is a provincial responsibility and said the province will need to help.

“This is not our mandate,” said Dubé. “We’re not funded for these kinds of things, so we’re going to be looking to the province to step up more when it comes to additional sort of accommodations outside the core as well.”

Read more: Researcher says Halifax modular units require social supports for residents

Coun. Pamela Lovelace raised the issue about the need for wraparound services for unhoused people and expressed concerns that she was “unsure” if the province would be at the table.

“When I think about wraparound services, there’s a long list of services that these individuals need,” she said. “There’s a unique approach for each person who is unhoused, for each family that is suffering … so I’m looking for assurances that we can rely on the province to come to the table.”

In response, Dubé said he is “very confident that the province will step up” and said they are already providing those services at the Gray Arena.

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Province providing services

The provincial Department of Community Services said in a statement later in the afternoon that it would provide $2.7 million in funding to the Out of the Cold Community Association “to deliver wraparound, supportive housing services” for the people staying in the modular units.

“Finding solutions for something as complex as homelessness takes a collective approach, and we are pleased to partner with HRM on these units,” said Minister Karla MacFarlane in the release.

“Ensuring those experiencing homelessness have accessible, wraparound supports will help ensure they are set up for long-term success and on a path to permanent housing.”

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

It said Out of the Cold will provide services like permanent housing solutions, mental health and addictions support, life stability and community connections and employment support.

“The association will also offer personalized case management and resident programming in a supportive, harm-reduction focused setting,” the statement said.

“This program will be offered to people who have been chronically homeless and are experiencing barriers to maintaining independent housing. Barriers could include poverty, criminalization, racism, homophobia, transphobia, food insecurity, inadequate access to physical and mental health supports, alcohol and substance use challenges and varying levels of ability and life skills.”

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