Halifax adopts framework to address growing homeless population

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Halifax council adopting new plan to address growing homelessness
WATCH: Halifax council is adopting a new plan to help address the growing homeless population. The number of homeless individuals has more than tripled since 2019. While the municipality is doing what it can to support people, councillors say they can't do it without the help of the province. Alicia Draus reports. – Feb 23, 2023

The number of homeless individuals in HRM has been steadily growing for the past several years.

According to the By Name List (BNL), in Dec. 2019 there were 269 actively homeless individuals. Two years later in Dec. 2021 there were 467 people on the list. As of Feb. 21, 2023 the BNL identified 835 actively homeless individuals in HRM.

Of that, it’s believed just over 100 people are currently sleeping outside. To address the growing number of people without homes, Halifax Regional Council is adopting a framework for addressing homelessness.

READ MORE: ‘We’re still people’: As winter sets in, unhoused people in Halifax call for change

“It’s great that they’re paying attention to homelessness,” said Eric Jonsson, a street navigator with the city.

“For many years they didn’t seem to make a big deal, but I think everyone knows that homelessness is a huge issue right now.”

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The framework lists a number of initiatives for the municipality to help support those without a house, including staffing an additional street navigator and looking to build a full time daily drop in centre that would operate year round.

“You can go to any public space in the daytime, malls, libraries, Tim Hortons, fast food restaurants and you see homeless people hanging out there because there’s no place for them to go to to,” said Jonsson.

“I think we need a dedicated space so people can do their laundry, people can shower if they need to get a meal, or so that service providers can meet people in a certain location.”

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But HRM councillors noted that this type of initiative would require provincial buy-in. A project of that nature is estimated to cost about $1.5 million a year to operate, and councillors agree the project is contingent on the province paying for half.

According to Joy Knight, executive director, Employment Support and Income Assistance with the province, there has been no such ask yet from the province, but she says the province is in constant communication with municipal staff about ways to help the homeless population and they are always open to new suggestions.

“Looking forward to hearing more from the municipality of what they’re thinking is needed, what kinds of gaps and challenges they’ve identified,” said Knight.

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In the meantime, Knight says the province has been moving forward with various initiatives to support vulnerable populations including several supportive housing projects.

Click to play video: 'New housing development for homeless opens in Dartmouth'
New housing development for homeless opens in Dartmouth

Some, like the Overlook in Dartmouth have already opened, while others such as the Diamond Bailey House in Halifax are nearing completion.

“Supportive housing exists along a continuum, it’s built and developed for individuals who need a little bit more of extra support in order to maintain their tenancy successfully and to stay successfully in their home.”

Knight says there are varying levels of supportive houses, in some cases tenants are connected with a housing support worker who checks in regularly and helps mitigate issues between landlords and tenants, other times it involves having a trustee in place to help individuals with things like bill payments and in some cases, such as with the Overlook, it means housing with 24/7 staffing to help meet the needs of those living there.

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As new supportive housing opportunities open up, the department works with various partners on the ground to identify indivudals on the By Name List who would be a good fit, but the dozens of units being made available are not enough to address the homeless issue, and there are concerns the number of homeless individuals will only continue to rise.

“Everyone knows the solution to homelessness is more housing, and we’re not seeing enough non market public housing being built,” said Jonsson.

As part of the framework for addressing homelessness the municipality also identified the provincial rent increase cap as a concern. The cap, which limits landlords to just a 2 percent increase each year, is set to expire at the end of the year, and the fear is that rents could increase significantly after, putting too much pressure on tenants who can’t afford increases.

“We know we have 12.5 percent of households in HRM in what we call core housing need, they’re spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing” said Max Chauvin, Director of Housing and Homelessness for HRM.

“If the province removes the rent cap there will be people who simply can’t afford $20 more a month, $100 more a month and they will be pushed into homelessness.”


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