P.E.I. housing minister mum on plan to address Charlottetown tent cities

·4 min read
People experiencing homelessness have been living in tents in Charlottetown. The province's housing minister says officials are working on a plan to address the issue. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)
People experiencing homelessness have been living in tents in Charlottetown. The province's housing minister says officials are working on a plan to address the issue. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

P.E.I.'s housing minister says the province doesn't want to evict anyone living in Charlottetown's tent cities, but he wants to reassure landowners that authorities won't "turn a blind eye" to the issue.

Matthew MacKay, who took over the housing portfolio in July's cabinet shuffle, met with the city's mayor and chief of police to discuss the encampments on Thursday, with another meeting set for this week.

MacKay said the officials will be working on a plan to address homelessness in the longer term, and that they will be "very aggressive with it," though he didn't provide much detail as to what the plan will look like.

"The encampments, we don't want to see. But at the same time, these individuals have nowhere else to go," MacKay said.

"We want to make sure that we provide compassion and work toward a long-term solution. So our goal through the department as well as the city, we need to find more beds to help this homeless population."

Some outreach workers have told CBC News it's possible the number of people who are homeless has tripled over the last couple of months.

Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.
Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.

MacKay said the numbers are definitely increasing, but the department and the police are still trying to figure out the scale of the problem because a "significant" number of those living in the encampments are from outside the province and will only be here for the summer.

Preparing for winter

Chris Clay, the co-ordinator of the Native Council of P.E.I.'s Reaching Home project, previously told CBC News there are about 150 people in P.E.I. considered to be homeless, but just as many who are "a cheque or two away" from homelessness.

Clay said shelters in Charlottetown are at capacity, and that 40 to 50 people in the city are sleeping outdoors every night.

"It's the worst summer I've seen. So finding out what's going to happen over the next couple of months is all new territory for us," said Clay.

"I know we're working in hand with the province to open up our own shelter, but that's only another eight or 10 beds, and it's just a bandage on a flood, almost."

MacKay said he has a few plans for housing more people ahead of the winter and that he'll provide details at a later date.

He said no one has been evicted from the encampments.

"The city and Charlottetown police, they don't want to have to evict anyone as well. But at the end of the day, some of these encampments are on private property," he said.

"Communication is going to be key. And one thing I really wanted ... when we finalize this and the direction we're going, is to communicate it and let the landowners [know] that, that we're not turning a blind eye to this, that we are going to get this rectified."

Rural communities impacted

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

The issue isn't limited to Charlottetown.

Norma Dingwell, manager of the Southern Kings and Queens Food Bank, said a handful of clients in Montague are also experiencing homelessness, and that there's about a dozen or so people in the area with no place to live.

Dingwell said because Charlottetown is so far away, help is very limited.

"We've had a few people that have reached out and asked us if there was places that they could go, like a shelter or something. And the best that we can offer them is the 211 information [phone line]," she said.

"We have no options. We don't have shelter, we don't have a soup kitchen. And ... we do have people that are in need of those services as well."

Dingwell said the province has done needs assessments in recent years, but there's been no solution.

The food bank had to stop hosting free meals a few months back because people weren't donating food amid rising prices.

Dingwell said that's been one among many factors leading people to homelessness.

"Some of these people aren't necessarily broke; some of them have jobs, just not enough money like for everything," she said.

"We're all human, we all deserve the basic needs of life, which is food, shelter, medication when we're sick ... We're not supposed to just be existing in this life, we're supposed to be living it. And a lot of these people can't live it because they are so deprived of just the basic necessities."