Nova Scotians in urgent need find promised housing relief tied up in confusion

·4 min read
A 'No Vacancy' sign on Vancouver apartment complex. Nova Scotia has promised more money for emergency hotel stays. One man on the verge of homelessness says he can't find any empty rooms. (David Horemans/CBC - image credit)
A 'No Vacancy' sign on Vancouver apartment complex. Nova Scotia has promised more money for emergency hotel stays. One man on the verge of homelessness says he can't find any empty rooms. (David Horemans/CBC - image credit)

One week after the Nova Scotia government announced a wide-ranging plan to address the crisis of housing and homelessness, some of the people in most urgent need are struggling to access help.

Shaun Allan and his 12-year-old son have been living with a friend in Conquerall Mills, on Nova Scotia's South Shore, for the past two months, but they learned last week that the friend wanted them out.

It was a blow, as he had been expecting to stay there into the new year, at least, and he already knew the rental market was tight. Still, he felt some hope that he'd be able to tap into the new services announced last week when Premier Tim Houston released his government's housing plan.

Parts of the housing plan have long-term outlooks, but other parts are meant to help immediately, including 425 new rent supplements and additional funding for temporary hotel stays.

Submitted by Shaun Allen
Submitted by Shaun Allen

Allen started looking into how he could benefit from the plan, right away. He called 211, the 24-hour phone line meant to help people navigate government services, and local community organizations.

"Every resource that I've tried to try to access the premier's funding for homelessness … no one knows," he said. "I've even reached out to the premier's phone line and left a message."

On Thursday, Allen connected with someone in the Department of Community Services. He said he was advised he wouldn't qualify for assistance until he was out of his current residence. He has to move out by Monday.

Allen also reached a staff member in the office of Lunenburg West MLA Becky Druhan and as of publication he was waiting for a more information.

He is hoping that he will qualify for some money to pay for a hotel room, but even if that money comes through, it could fall short of solving Allen's problem, since hotel rooms in his area seem to be hard to come by.

He said he has already called every hotel he could find between Bridgewater and Lunenburg, and found they all either had no vacancy or would not offer long-term rentals.

Lisa Dewitt has faced similar obstacles in the past week. She was forced out of her New Glasgow, N.S., apartment in September after a fire and has been living in a hotel ever since, unable to find a new home. She shared the story recently with CBC News.

After her story was published, several people sent her money, allowing Dewitt to cover some of her overdue bills and extend her hotel stay.

But the kindness of strangers has only gone so far. On Wednesday she spoke to CBC after checking out of the hotel and packing her possessions into her car, unsure of where she would be heading next.

Taryn Grant/CBC
Taryn Grant/CBC

Like Allen, Dewitt had called 211.

"They sent me to different places, different numbers to call, and I called and they said, 'Well, we would tell you to call 211.' It was just a mess. I got nothing accomplished at all."

After speaking with CBC, Dewitt drove to the office for her MLA, Pat Dunn, where a constituency assistant helped her get enough funding to cover three more nights at a hotel. What comes after that is not yet clear.

Art Fisher, director of the family services non-profit Freeman House in Bridgewater, said he would like to see some of the government help promised last week channeled through community organizations like his, but he hasn't heard anything about how the province plans to allocate the new resources.

"We haven't been contacted by anybody … so I'm going to reach out."

In the meantime, Fisher said he's glad people are going straight to their MLA's offices. He hopes it means government will receive the message that in-community supports for people who are precariously housed or already homeless is urgently needed.

"We tell people ourselves to please call your MLA because we need help on the ground."

Fisher said he thinks the province may have to mandate hotels start opening their rooms for emergency housing. As for the new rent supplements on offer, he said they are essentially useless with rental vacancy so low.

Houston told reporters at Province House Thursday that more initiatives are still to come for people facing homelessness. He said he's confident that the province, in partnership with municipalities, will make sure services get to the people who need them.

"We're very focused on [and] we're very conscious of the fact that winter is coming," Houston said.

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