New report shows homelessness in CBRM not improving

·4 min read
'The number hasn't changed a lot, really, despite a lot of work and efforts to house people, successful efforts, people are being housed,' says Lilla Roy. (Matthew Moore/CBC - image credit)
'The number hasn't changed a lot, really, despite a lot of work and efforts to house people, successful efforts, people are being housed,' says Lilla Roy. (Matthew Moore/CBC - image credit)

A new report into homelessness in eastern Nova Scotia shows that Cape Breton Regional Municipality could be "a community that is stuck treading water."

The survey shows 419 people in eastern Nova Scotia were experiencing some form of homelessness last November.

The report, released Aug. 5, was expanded from previous counts to include all the municipalities on Cape Breton Island and Guysborough and Antigonish on the mainland.

Researchers worked with groups that provide services to vulnerable populations in those areas to count those living homeless, couch-surfing and other forms of precarious housing.

Little has changed when it comes to the homeless population in CBRM.

"The number hasn't changed a lot, really, despite a lot of work and efforts to house people, successful efforts, people are being housed," said Lilla Roy, the principal investigator on the survey and an associate professor of nursing at Cape Breton University.

"I think the hard part sometimes is how unsurprising it is."

Brittany Wentzell/CBC
Brittany Wentzell/CBC

About 265 adults and children in CBRM  had no shelter or were in temporary shelter during a count last year. That's down slightly from 284 people in 2018.

"We are at the tipping point in terms of tent cities here in the CBRM, it is that desperate out there," said Erika Shea, president and CEO of New Dawn Enterprises.

New Dawn Enterprises is a social welfare agency that provides 27 units of supportive housing as well as a community kitchen and pantry.

"We need five times that much. There are never vacancies in our supportive housing units."

Some key takeaways from the report:

  • More than half of those identified as experiencing homelessness aged 16 or older were living with mental illness and/or addiction.

  • 42 per cent were receiving income assistance.

  • The gender of those surveyed was nearly the same, with 49 per cent identified as female and 47 per cent identified as male.

  • Roughly 32 per cent were between the ages of 16 and 29. The next largest age group was 30 to 39 years old at 29 per cent.

  • There were 64 children reported to be under the care of those experiencing homelessness, bringing the total counted up to 483.

  • A disproportionate number (14 per cent) of those surveyed were Indigenous.

Homelessness in rural areas

The report was put together by the Affordable Housing and Homelessness Working Group, the Strait Richmond Housing Matters Coalition, Mental Health and Addictions, Nova Scotia Health and Cape Breton University.

Shea said she is impressed with the rural municipalities for taking the step to find out who is dealing with homelessness in their own areas and for looking for solutions.

"We've been really fortunate to be part of some conversations that have been convened by Victoria County and convened by the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, for example, really elevating this issue of housing," said Shea.

"They are actively thinking about their housing shortage and the lack of affordable housing in those communities … and are actively researching, reaching out, looking for models in other parts of the country that might fit their communities."

Corepics VOF/Shutterstock
Corepics VOF/Shutterstock

Shea would like to see more programs, like the CMHC's Rapid Housing Initiative, targeted at smaller cities and more rural communities, as they are dealing with similar issues to large cities but with different demographics.

Roy said she hopes the data is used by government and other groups to create change.

Rights-based approach

The report calls for a "rights-based approach to housing," asking all provincial departments to make housing and homelessness central in its policy development and set formalized targets to eliminate homelessness.

The province sent CBC a joint statement from the Departments of Community Services, Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Office of Addictions and Mental Health, saying they are reviewing the report and its findings.

"Nova Scotians experiencing homelessness deserve to feel safe, supported, and to be treated with dignity. We know that many people and families are struggling to find and affordable place to call home. The housing crisis is very real. It didn't develop overnight but it has grown significantly in recent years.

We all see the impact. This is a complex problem, and there are no simple answers. But this government is driven to finding solutions."

The statement notes the Department of Community Services has made investments to provide more supportive housing and emergency support for people experiencing homelessness, which amounted to a $17 million increase in its budget. The Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing has made more rent supplements available and announced new investments in affordable housing units.

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