Rally held to protest planned closure of Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre's homeless shelter

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Supporters hold a large banner that reads, 'Save The Shelter' at a rally Friday in Halifax outside the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre. The rally included rhythmic chanting, Indigenous music and a smudging ceremony. (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)
Supporters hold a large banner that reads, 'Save The Shelter' at a rally Friday in Halifax outside the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre. The rally included rhythmic chanting, Indigenous music and a smudging ceremony. (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)

Staff, residents and supporters of a Halifax homeless shelter that's scheduled to close its doors in two weeks rallied together Friday outside the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre to protest the impending closure.

The non-profit centre operates the 40-bed shelter, which opened in January of this year and prioritizes housing Indigenous people experiencing homelessness.

"Everybody's scared and worried and they don't know what's going on, and we don't know what to tell them because we don't know what's going on," said Rosalie (Rose) Hyslop, a case manager at the shelter.

Hyslop has worked at the shelter for the last nine months. She, along with 19 others, will no longer be employed once it closes Dec. 31.

She said she's worried for the shelter's residents and unsure what her future holds without this job.

"I have a 15-year-old at home," said Hyslop. "I'm taking care of him. He's not mine, but I feel like I have a kid to support now…. I'm more worried about him than I am for me because he was homeless when he came to me."

Dave Laughlin/CBC
Dave Laughlin/CBC

Hyslop said she and her colleagues are heartbroken over the decision to close, which will affect 40 Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients who've been staying at the shelter on North Park Street.

In a letter to staff Monday, the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre said the building's lease was ending at the end of the month and funding from the province for 2022 had not yet been secured.

The centre has also said racism was a factor in the decision.

"The shelter was supposed to lift our people up. In fact, it did the opposite. Our community faced racism and felt unsafe in what was supposed to be a safe place for them," the centre said in a recent statement.

The centre's executive director, Pamela Glode-Desrochers, has also said that cultural supports planned for the shelter were not put in place before the facility opened its doors.

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs released a statement in support of the centre's decision to close the shelter.

"The assembly fully supports decisions made by the executive and board of the MNFC [Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre] when it comes to how to best serve our urban Mi'kmaw and Indigenous community members, as they know how to best meet the needs of those utilizing their program and services," the release said.

Workers question reasons given for closure

Some staff members have openly speculated the threat of unionization was behind the decision to close, something Glode-Desrochers has denied. Workers at the shelter said Friday they have filed a grievance with the province's Labour Board.

Hyslop said the tools to provide appropriate cultural supports weren't provided to staff. Besides a workshop here and there and the occasional visit from an elder, she said not much was offered.

"I don't think management gave us the support and funding to deliver proper cultural support. They only started recently in the last, I have to say, a few months," she said.

Catherine Hubbard, a caseworker at the shelter, said three of eight Indigenous staff were fired in recent months.

Dave Laughlin/CBC
Dave Laughlin/CBC

Campbell McClintock, a front-line worker for the Out of the Cold Community Association in Halifax, said while he'd like to see the decision to close the shelter reversed, saving one shelter won't fix the housing crisis. He called on the provincial government to take action.

"Primarily, the system that is creating housing in Nova Scotia is entirely oriented towards serving the class of people who are developing real estate and the politicians who are allowing these policies. So the consequence of that is a very, very deeply entrenched housing crisis," said McClintock, who attended Friday's rally.

"There may be a lot of barriers, but there is no excuse for any wealthy institution to withhold their support of their constituents they're supposed to be representing."

Province says funding will be redirected for hotel stays

Karla MacFarlane, the province's minister of community services, said her department will work with the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre to transfer people to a hotel where they will receive supports to help them eventually transition into the community.

"The $850,000 that was committed to flow to the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre emergency shelter will instead now be directed toward the hotel costs," MacFarlane told CBC News in a statement.

The province also recently announced $1.6 million for the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre to operate the Diamond Bailey House in Halifax when that shelter opens in May. An additional $76,000 will be provided in the first year for startup costs.

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