Housing advocates say the P.E.I. government's plan to set up modular housing units in Charlottetown is a good first step to help the growing number of people who are homeless in the province, but that more help is needed right away, as well as long-term supports.
The province announced a plan this week to set up 40 to 50 mobile housing units in the parking lot of the COVID-19 testing site on Park Street by mid-November.
Lorraine Goley at the Upper Room Soup Kitchen said she is seeing more people coming through who have been living in tents. The need to do something immediately is urgent, she said, and can't wait for the modular homes to arrive.
On Friday, she said, with the temperature in Charlottetown struggling to get into the mid-teens, people were already complaining about the cold. She sees that as an expression of concern about what's coming.
"What are they going to be worried about come next week or next month? It is a panic for them, and a really sick worry," Goley said.
'Ask them what they need'
While there is an urgent need, Goley stressed it is equally important to develop permanent solutions. She doesn't want to see people moved into hotels for the winter and then moved out again next summer to make room for tourists.
In developing those long-term solutions, she said, government officials shouldn't be making any assumptions.
"Don't just presume you know what they want and need. That needs to be the first thing," said Goley. "They need to do the research on what the people need rather than telling them what they need. Ask them what they need, and actually listen to them."
That means more than just putting a roof over their heads, she said. Some have been living on the street for years, and they will need help to get back on their feet. But, she said, it's not entirely up to government to fix this problem.
"It's got to be a two-way thing. They've got to be helped, but they've got to take on responsibilities, looking after what they've been given," said Goley.
"Then hopefully we can come together. It's a two-way street. It's got to be dealt with on both sides."
Safe injection site coming
Goley also said most of the people she serves don't have access to water, washrooms, heat, or a safe place to use hard drugs and prevent overdoses.
"If they're going to put 40, 50 mobile homes, maybe one of them could be a safe injection site that they could use," she suggested.
PEERS Alliance is also pushing for more help for people living with addictions, including access to portable washrooms at the tent cities.
PEERS street outreach worker Tessa Rogers said she is excited about the news of the coming mobile housing units.
"It's huge. I think we definitely need to celebrate it as a win," she said.
"Any holistic view would also include an overdose protection site somewhere near the services that we currently have," she added.
In an email to CBC News, P.E.I.'s Department of Health and Wellness said it is actively working on implementing an overdose prevention site. It said along with P.E.I.'s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure and the community harm reduction steering committee, it is looking for an "existing fixed location" to provide greater predictability for clients, and noted it should be within a 20-minute walking distance from clients and service providers.
"If it is any further away, then people are more likely to use alone — which is a significant risk factor for overdose deaths," the email said.
It added officials are optimistic a location will be identified and renovated, and then a request can be issued for proposals for a non-governmental organization to operate it.
'Access to basic needs' needed now
Members of P.E.I.'s Official Opposition were in the neighbourhood Friday where the modular homes will be set up. They said residents need information and P.E.I.'s homeless camps need support.
"We need to see some access to basic needs. Water, garbage disposal, bathrooms. We need to see case management happening," said Karla Bernard, the Green Party MLA for Charlottetown-Victoria Park.
Minister of Social Development and Housing Matthew MacKay said overnight shelter services are being worked on, and longer-term solutions will be worked on in the coming months.