Former Liberal cabinet minister pleads for fast action on homelessness

·3 min read
Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire says he understands what it's like to sleep on the street, because he's been there.  (CBC - image credit)
Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire says he understands what it's like to sleep on the street, because he's been there. (CBC - image credit)

A former Liberal cabinet minister and current Opposition MLA made an impassioned plea in the Nova Scotia Legislature for the Progressive Conservative government to find solutions to the housing crisis before winter sets in.

Brendan Maguire also admitted that his party should have done more to alleviate homelessness when it was in power.

He spoke during a debate on housing called by the Liberals at Province House on Wednesday, using his own experience as a homeless teen to paint a picture of what it can be like to spend a night outside.

"I have been homeless. I didn't care who was in power. The only thing I cared about was which apartment lobby am I going to sleep in," said Maguire.

"I slept in [an industrial garbage bin] one night because there was nowhere to go. You're looking for any way to survive and you feel alone and you feel hopeless."

Ever since he first ran for politics in 2013, Maguire has spoken openly about bouncing between foster homes beginning at age four, when his parents abandoned him and his siblings. As a teen, he spent time sleeping on the streets and in a youth shelter.

'I shoulder some of that blame'

Maguire sat on the government side of the legislature for the past eight years, until the Liberal government was defeated in the summer election. He served as minister of Municipal Affairs from February until Tim Houston's Progressive Conservatives took over.

"I'll be the first to say, could we have done more? Should we have done more? Absolutely, 100 per cent. I shoulder some of that blame, too," he said.

NDP MLA Suzy Hansen agreed with Maguire on that point.

"I respect this member very highly, so while I appreciate the Liberals have brought forward this topic for debate, it is unfortunate that they have only discovered that housing falls within provincial jurisdiction now that they are an Opposition party," Hansen said during the debate.

The PCs campaigned on a platform heavily focused on health care, with promises to recruit and retain more workers, reduce wait times for surgery and emergency care and build more long-term care beds.

Maguire said he hopes the government recognizes that stable housing is the foundation of good health.

"I implore you to look at this holistically. You were all elected on a health-care platform.... I [wish] you all the success in the world because if you're successful, Nova Scotia is going to be successful, and that's absolutely God's honest truth," said Maguire.

"But health care isn't just about access to primary care. It's not just about the short-term wins. It's about looking at this long-term. How do we deal with the addictions? How do we deal with chronic poverty?"

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

Maguire said he hopes to see not just the creation of more units of affordable housing, but also greater access to support services to address the root causes that lead people to homelessness in the first place.

The PCs were criticized this week when their speech from the throne, which lays out the plan for the next four years in broad strokes, included only passing reference to the housing crisis and little insight into the government's plan to fix it.

Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane said work to alleviate homelessness is well underway.

She gave credit to the previous minister in her department for creating a plan last year and funding more specialized outreach workers including housing support workers and intensive case managers.

She said she knows there's still much work to be done.

"I am confident we can address this challenge," said MacFarlane.

"Working together we can and we will ensure those who need our help receive it and are treated with the dignity, the respect and the heart they so rightly deserve."

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