Halifax plans to create 137 new affordable housing units, starting with bunkhouses that officials hope will provide refuge to some of the people currently living in tents and temporary shelters.
The municipality will use $20 million from the federal government's rapid housing initiative program to create permanent options, Mayor Mike Savage said Wednesday at a news conference.
"It's not perfect. There isn't a perfect in this," he said. "But there is a better, and the better is to accommodate the people who need help right now."
So far, the city has purchased 24 "trailer-like" modular units that will soon be set up on a site in Dartmouth and another in Halifax, said Erica Fleck, the municipality's assistant chief of emergency management.
Fleck, who has been seconded to work on the housing crisis and answered questions alongside Savage, said the exact locations of the units will be announced soon as consultations with service providers and the province are underway.
Some of the units will be arranged as bunkhouses with eight to 10 beds in them. Fleck said there will be trailers with kitchen areas and laundry facilities. In total, the new units are meant to house up to 73 people.
The municipality plans to work with officials to find long-term solutions, Savage said.
Former rink now temporary shelter
The city is also working with Out of the Cold, a community association that provides support to people experiencing homelessness, to create temporary emergency shelter at the municipal-owned Gerald B. Gray Memorial Arena in Dartmouth. Savage said a facility was needed quickly, and after talking to hotel and building owners, the city decided to use the former rink.
Fleck said there is room for 30 people in the arena and the municipality could increase that capacity if needed by providing Out of the Cold with more resources. For now, it will be open until Oct. 31.
Savage acknowledged some people, particularly those who are used to sleeping rough, may not be comfortable moving to the arena in a room with many others in a large space.
"This modular solution may work for some of those folks in a way that the Gray arena — with other people in a large space, but all together — may not work," Savage said.
No moratoriums on evictions
Fleck said people living in tents around Halifax, including Victoria Park between Spring Garden Road and South Park Street, and Meagher Park at Chebucto Road and Dublin Street, will not be forced to move unless there is a health and safety concern.
But she said the municipality won't issue a moratorium on evictions because the current bylaws don't allow for people to live in municipal parks and there are no plans to change that.
"What we will do is work with the people who are living in the parks to transition peacefully to another location that works for them and works for HRM," she said.
She said starting this week, staff will focus on Victoria Park in hopes of offering people camping there supports and alternatives.
The municipality also plans to hire a full-time co-ordinator to liaise with service providers who are working closely with people in need of housing.
Council approved a motion Monday to provide portable showers and to double the affordable housing grant program to $400,000. Savage said that will help charities and not-for-profits build and refurbish affordable housing.
"For too many years, successive governments have not met the test to house people who most need the help," he said.
But Savage doesn't place any blame on the new provincial government. He said officials are in frequent contact with municipal counterparts and are signaling they're prepared to "treat it as the crisis it is."
"We're stepping up as a municipality but we fully expect the province will be part of that solution," he said.
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