Dartmouth transitional home for vulnerable women in ‘desperate’ need of repairs

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WATCH: A century-old home in Dartmouth, N.S., that houses women coming out of incarceration is in desperate need of repairs. Ashley Field has more in this report. – May 28, 2022

A century-old home in Dartmouth that houses women coming out of incarceration is in desperate need of repairs.

After living on the streets and in and out of shelters for the past two years, Melody Wolfe said she finally feels at home at the Elizabeth Fry Society’s Holly House.

“Being around such safe, secure, friendly staff, it’s just amazing,” she told Global News.

“As a result of homelessness and other issues, I came into conflict with the law, which is very common on the streets, and I had nowhere to go,” said Wolfe, adding she feels “blessed” to be staying there.

The 42-year-old is one of several women who currently live at the 10-bed house.

“They’re very good at being on top of and really encouraging you to be the best you can be…. I was able to get the medical treatment I needed, which was just life-changing,” said Wolfe.

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Read more: Nova Scotia invests $360K in housing facility for criminalized women transitioning back to society

But Holly House has seen better days. Dawn Corkum, the property manager for the Elizabeth Fry Society, said the aging home is falling into disrepair, and they need proper funding to address it.

“We’re looking at about a half a million dollars in renovations that are needed,” Corkum told Global News.

“We usually get our money from the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, but unfortunately we were not picked for this fiscal year. So that has put a huge damper on our renovations here and our ability to be able to keep this place habitable and up to code for the women who live here.”

Corkum said the most immediate need is to make upgrades to the facility’s communal kitchen, which she said is “decaying quite rapidly.” A hole is developing in the ceiling from water damage, and cupboards are falling off.

The Elizabeth Fry Society’s property manager Dawn Corkum said the ceiling is caving in due to water damage in the home’s communal kitchen. Ashley Field/Global News

“It’s important that the women who live here in Holly House have access to a functioning kitchen,” she said.

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“It provides them with a place that they can have communal meals together as a family. It provides them with stability in also teaching them how to be self-sufficient.”

Corkum said there are issues all around the home, but without the necessary funds, the problem only worsens. She fears the building could be condemned if funding doesn’t come through.

Read more: Elizabeth Fry Society fundraising for incarcerated women’s Christmas gifts

“If Holly House didn’t exist, we would have a lot of vulnerable folks who are out on the streets, with no fixed address, so they’re not able to gain access to wraparound supports,” said Corkum.

“It really sets them up for failure to not have facilities like ours.”

She said the society has put forward a proposal to Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services and is currently waiting to hear back. She said she’d love to see more stable funding from the government to help facilities like Holly House.

“It’s really important that folks have a safe and stable place that they can call their home and be able to be successful members of society and be able to reintegrate and not reoffend,” she said.

Bright future ahead

Wolfe is nothing but grateful for Holly House and shies away from “complaining” about the work that needs to be done, but admits the kitchen could use some TLC.

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“It’s not feasible for the amount of women that are here. Unfortunately, it does need a do-over,” she said.

“You can’t cook for the whole nine women here at once, like maybe one or two people can cook. So it’s really time-consuming.”

She is happy to be back on her feet and credits much of her success to the Elizabeth Fry Society and Holly House.

“I can’t speak enough for this organization, and particularly Holly House. I’d still be in jail if it weren’t for this house,” she said.

She has been at the shelter for only one month but is already looking ahead to her bright future.

“I’m taking it day by day, but I’ve been accepted to Mount Saint Vincent University, so I’d like to begin my studies in the fall, completing my honours degree in English.”

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