Housing minister aiming for 24/7 homeless shelter before next winter

Housing Minister Matthew MacKay says he liked what he saw at a housing shelter in Ottawa. (CBC - image credit)
Housing Minister Matthew MacKay says he liked what he saw at a housing shelter in Ottawa. (CBC - image credit)

P.E.I. Housing Minister Matthew MacKay wants to move away from the model of simply providing a bed for homeless people.

"I'm hoping by this time next year the temporary beds and shelters are a thing of the past and we have a more permanent solution," MacKay told reporters after the legislature sitting Wednesday.

"That's what we're working towards."

MacKay said he was inspired by a recent visit to the Ottawa shelter Shepherds of Good Hope. The shelter provides not just a place for clients to sleep, but a place for them to live. It is open 24 hours a day, and clients are assigned their own space where they can put their things and lock the door behind them when they go out.

It also provides supports for clients with complex needs: safe injection, alcohol service, and a team of staff who can provide services to help people become independent again and move into permanent housing.

"It was very impressive and run exactly how I envision this could look here on P.E.I.," said MacKay.

"It's something that our NGOs have been talking about for a long time. They want to see 24/7 access."

Services for complex people

Shepherds of Good Hope is designed to help people who have come to a very difficult place in their lives, says Deirdre Freiheit, the group's CEO.

"The people who come to us for service are many of the most complex people in the city," said Freiheit.

Shepherds of Good Hope
Shepherds of Good Hope

"People who are dealing with, often, substance use disorders, mental health challenges, and of course that's all rooted in trauma."

Service at the shelter starts before a person is even given a room, said Freiheit, because the first priority is to find another option, perhaps with family or friends, and perhaps connect them with services that will help.

If a person has no other choice but a room at the shelter, the first priority is to build a relationship.

"You have to spend some time getting to know people and finding out what it is that they want to work on, where they are in their journey, and what supports might be available to them," Freiheit said.

"That's where it starts. It's a team effort."

'A place to feel safe'

Central to that is providing people a space of their own they can access all day, she said.

"It's critical that we make sure that they feel welcome and provide those supports, and not put them out on the street," she said.

The P.E.I. government has plans to open a 51-unit shelter in Charlottetown by the end of this month, but it would only be open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. People would have to clear out early in the morning, and line up for a space again in the evening.

CBC
CBC

Having a place to call their own is an important step toward an independent life, said Freiheit.

"It makes all the difference in the world. People need a place to feel safe. They need a place they feel supported. They need a place to access services," she said.

"If they want to look for employment, they can't do that sitting on a park bench with no computer."

The government is looking at a number of examples of homeless shelters across the country, said MacKay.

Putting together a 24/7 shelter for Charlottetown will take time, he said. The province needs to find the partners who will run it and provide services, as well as the building itself where the people will be housed.