Demand soars for survival kits for those sleeping rough in Halifax

Click to play video: 'Demand soars for ‘living rough’ kits in Halifax'
Demand soars for ‘living rough’ kits in Halifax
WATCH: The city of Halifax expects that more people will be sleeping rough throughout the region this summer. It says requests for kits to help them live outside amid the housing crunch are already high. Now, the region is searching for a supplier to deliver the items to keep up with demand. Skye Bryden-Blom reports – May 24, 2023

The city expects more people will be sleeping rough throughout the Halifax region this summer.

It says requests for kits to help people live outside amid the housing crunch are already high. Now, the region is searching for a supplier to deliver the equipment to keep up with demand.

Halifax’s Housing and Homelessness Director Max Chauvin predicts the region will need more than 100 kits to help those sleeping rough over the next year.

They include survival supplies such as tents, sleeping bags, waterproof tarps, air mattresses, and socks.

Max Chauvin is Halifax’s Housing and Homelessness Director. He sits next to a kit designed to help those sleeping rough, which includes a tent, sleeping bag, and socks. Skye Bryden-Blom/Global News

Thirty kits have been delivered since April 1. The city does not directly give them out, but instead passes the resources through street navigators and non-profits.

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“That’s higher than we expected,” Chauvin says. “There are more people who are becoming homeless. The largest increase in a group of people are people who simply cannot afford an apartment.”

The city’s most recent budget includes $60,000 to help homeless encampments and to deliver emergency supplies. On Tuesday, HRM issued a tender to find a supplier of the equipment.

“Everybody has an opportunity to build,” says Chauvin. “In that tender document, we’ve suggested we’ll need at least 120 kits over a year period — and we may need more.”

He says the agreement would be for one year with the option to renew for two more. It also includes a provision if the pricing for the supplier changes, which would allow them to adjust that.

Click to play video: 'New affordable housing project opens in Nova Scotia'
New affordable housing project opens in Nova Scotia

Meanwhile, Souls Harbour Rescue Mission expects to see an increase in its drop-in services over the summer. CEO Michelle Porter says the numbers usually climb each summer.

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“People are travelling here, they think they’re gonna find some work,” explains Porter. “They love the idea of the lifestyle, maybe they want to get out of Toronto. And so I can’t imagine what this year with this housing crisis that’s going to do for our homeless population here.”

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The non-profit currently serves 400 meals province-wide, but Porter predicts that number will also climb.

Michelle Porter, Souls Harbour Rescue Mission CEO. Skye Bryden-Blom/Global News

“I would say on the plus side, I’m happy that something is happening for people sleeping rough,” says Porter. “But you know, it’s bad when the city is saying, ‘Here, sleep in this tent.'”

She says the non-profit itself has encountered problems around the lack of housing in the province. It’s currently working to expand its operations in Sydney, Cape Breton. Souls Harbour will be serving meals out of a food truck.

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“We’re going to have to hire some staff again,” says Porter. “We were met with some challenges. We were going to send already trained staff to Sydney. Unfortunately, there was no housing for them.”

Sociologists call housing issues a ‘wicked problem’

A professor at Dalhousie University’s School of Social Work agrees more needs to be done.

“I really hope it’s not long-term. It’s not sustainable whatsoever, providing tents and sleeping bags,” says Jeff Karabanow. “That’s a real last resort. It’s a very band-aid approach to the dynamic.”

He says the fix will require engagement from all levels of government.

“Sociologists call this a wicked problem,” says Karabanow. “It is a social issue that involves a multitude of different systems.”

“We live in a pluralist society where the government really needs to take everybody’s considerations in terms of the basic needs being met,” he says. “For homeless populations, we realize that the basic need of housing is not met. And we need to move housing outside of the private sector, and provide some sort of sustainable, healthy alternative.”

Jeff Karabanow is a professor at Dalhousie University’s School of Social Work. Skye Bryden-Blom/Global News

Karabanow says he is happy to see the municipality and province have become much more engaged with housing issues in recent years.

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But he would like to see more money spent on sustainable long-term solutions such as increasing the stock of supportive and affordable housing.

Last year, HRM gave out more than 100 kits, which included replacement tents required after storm Fiona swept through.

Chauvin agrees helping people sleep outdoors is a band-aid fix.

“It’s what we do in the short-term to deal with the problem,” he says. “That said, you don’t want someone to be told, ‘Go sleep under a bush,’ either, so it’s what can we do to help somebody to make it a little better.”

He, too, says the long-term solution involves governments working together to create more affordable housing.

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