A Halifax shelter for Indigenous people experiencing homelessness will close at the end of the month because it’s not properly serving the city’s Indigenous community, the centre’s administration said Tuesday.
Some of the shelter’s staff, however, say the closure is a response to a unionization drive that was recently started.
Pamela Glode-Desrochers, executive director of the shelter’s parent organization, the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre, said that despite attempts to outfit the facility with the appropriate cultural resources, the majority of the shelter’s residents are non-Indigenous.
Each night, about 10 to 15 beds out of 40 are occupied by people who identify as Indigenous, Glode-Desrochers said in an interview. But she said that number might be lower because some people could be falsely identifying themselves.
“We’re getting to the point that the cultural supports need to be implemented, and we have to restructure it to make sure that happens,” she said.
Some of the shelter’s Indigenous residents feel unsafe at the facility, she added. “The reality is it’s not meeting the needs of the community and I don’t know how else to fix it, but to hit a reset.”
The Friendship Centre is now focusing on the Diamond Bailey House, an Indigenous supportive housing initiative in Halifax, which is set to open next summer, she added.
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Some employees at the shelter, however, said in a statement released Tuesday the facility’s imminent closure is in reaction to a unionization drive. Staff members said they were also concerned about residents who may be left on the street when the facility closes on Dec. 31.
Shelter case manager Brent Cosgrove said that at a meeting with staff on Monday, Glode-Desrochers said the closure was due to funding issues and because the facility “wasn’t running in line with her vision of supporting urban Indigenous populations.”
Cosgrove said during an interview Tuesday that in the year since the shelter opened, it has served Indigenous people – both status and non-status – as well as non-Indigenous residents. Monday’s meeting, he said, came just after the staff submitted a union application to the Nova Scotia Labour Board.
“There’s been some issues with management since we opened, and recently there have been some considerable safety concerns on the part of staff â€¦ so to protect ourselves and to better serve the people in staying at the shelter, we opted to unionize,” he said.
“It’s just the timing of it all. I would be surprised if it was a coincidence,” Cosgrove added. “Frankly, I don’t think it is at all.”
Glode-Desrochers said she didn’t know of the unionization drive before calling Monday’s meeting about the facility’s closure.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2021.