Emergency shelters filling up at Catholic churches in Nova Scotia

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John Stevens, the project manager with the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth, said 9 shelters were expected to be installed at 4 churches around the Halifax area as of Wednesday. (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)
John Stevens, the project manager with the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth, said 9 shelters were expected to be installed at 4 churches around the Halifax area as of Wednesday. (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)

People experiencing homelessness have begun moving into emergency shelters at Catholic churches in the Halifax area, but at least one site has run into zoning issues.

The Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth is installing 20 units — each at a cost of $11,500 — at various parish locations around the province.

Project manager John Stevens said Wednesday nine shelters would be installed by the end of the day at four sites, and seven units were already occupied.

"So far, I think people are very pleased to be able to move from a tent to something that's heated and secure and they can call their own for the next little while," Stevens said.

Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth
Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth

"They're not homes, they're not permanent solutions. But for this winter, I think they're going to make a big difference for people."

Stevens expects all units to be built by the end of this week and installed over the next couple of weeks into the new year — just beyond the original completion goal of Dec. 24.

However, the planned installation of a unit at St. Patrick's Church on Brunswick Street in Halifax has been delayed, and another parish site may need to be found for the shelter.

Stevens said a neighbour recently let the archdiocese know its plan to install a unit at the rear of the church's parking lot was against municipal zoning rules.

Brynn Budden, a spokesperson with the Halifax Regional Municipality, said in an email Wednesday the parking lot is on a separate lot from the church itself.

Although accessory structures can be built on an adjacent lot, Budden said the lot in question isn't properly zoned to allow that.

Budden said planning staff have spoken to the archdiocese several times about other possible solutions, like placing the shelter directly behind St. Patrick's on its own lot.

Paul Poirier/CBC
Paul Poirier/CBC

"After the applicant looked into it further, it was determined that the grade in behind [the church] would not permit the equipment to manoeuvre adequately to put the structure down," Budden said.

Stevens said the engineering team working with the archdiocese is consulting with city planners to figure out another possible way to fit the shelter at St. Patrick's.

"If it's a no, it's a no. We'll have another place for that shelter, that's not a problem. But just for now we're committed to find a way to make it work there," Stevens said.

Besides the Halifax area, three shelters will be installed at two church sites in Amherst and Bridgewater.

Each unit is eight by eight feet, which is the minimum size of a bedroom. The shelters will have steel siding, an integrated twin bed with storage, heating, USB charge ports, and a fire extinguisher on the exterior.

Stevens said Archbishop Brian Dunn has been the driving force behind the project, and Dunn focused on homelessness during his Christmas message posted to YouTube on Tuesday.

"The quality of our faith is to be judged by the quality of justice in our world, and the quality of justice in our world is to be judged on the basis of how the weakest are cared for," Dunn said.

Steve Lawrence/CBC
Steve Lawrence/CBC

The archdiocese has been fundraising to cover the $230,000 cost of the shelters. Stevens said about $196,000 had been raised as of Wednesday. The archdiocese is committed to finishing the project, even if the fundraising comes up short, he said.

Meanwhile, work by the Halifax Regional Municipality to install modular units on both sides of the harbour continues.

HRM has said there were 22 people, 49 tents and six temporary shelters at nine homeless encampments in the municipality as of Nov. 28.

Last month, council approved $3.2 million for the purchase, installation and maintenance of modular units to be installed at the Centennial Pool site in Halifax and along Alderney Drive in Dartmouth.

But there are delays in getting people into those units.

According to a Dec. 17 update, the seven mobile units at the Dartmouth site won't ready until the first week of January "due to a number of factors outside the municipality's control," including weather, site conditions, and supply chain issues related to electrical equipment. The units had been expected to be ready Dec. 20.

The timing for occupancy at both locations depends on the province, which will determine the placement of individuals in co-ordination with community service provider Out of the Cold.

Many of the people waiting to move into the city's units will stay at the Gerald B. Gray Memorial Arena in Dartmouth over the holidays and into January, the city's update said, and no one will be asked to leave "until alternate accommodations have been offered."

The timeline for the modular units at the Centennial Pool site in Halifax "will become clearer as we complete the Dartmouth site," the municipality said.

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