Summerside's new women's shelter prepares for expansion

With the help of $2.9 million in federal funding, BGC Prince County plans to break ground on a new 10-unit building for transitional housing. (BGC Prince County - image credit)
With the help of $2.9 million in federal funding, BGC Prince County plans to break ground on a new 10-unit building for transitional housing. (BGC Prince County - image credit)

After opening its doors less than a year ago, the shelter for women and children in Summerside is in the process of expanding.

LifeHouse Transitional Housing and Emergency Shelter, which is run in partnership with BGC Prince County, offers emergency shelter and transitional housing for women and children.

"We've had nobody leave LifeHouse and go back into homelessness — that's huge," said LifeHouse coordinator Jody Sentner.

Staff work one-on-one with clients to connect them with services that suit their particular circumstances and help them secure more permanent housing, she said.

This can include helping with resume writing, searching for daycare services or learning to use the food bank.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

"It's figuring out all the little pieces that can kind of help them with the big piece," Sentner said.

Staff at the shelter stay connected with clients for six months after they move out of the shelter to check in and provide support if it's needed, according to Sentner.

"If that means our weekly visit ... is going to the food bank, then that's what I do."

Construction of new housing units to start this spring

The shelter has been at full capacity since it opened last June and has housed 27 clients so far, said Adam Binkley, executive director of BGC Prince County.

"Unfortunately, the need is greater than what we're able to provide," Binkley said.

With the help of $2.9 million in federal funding, the shelter will soon grow to include a brand new 10-unit transitional housing building for women and children.

Binkley said the organization has already purchased a plot of land behind the BGC building and construction is expected to begin this spring. The plan is to have work completed by the end of the year and doors open to new clients in early 2024.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

He said clients can live in transitional housing units for up to a year. During that time, staff will be available on site 24/7, and will work with clients to secure employment and eventually move into homes of their own.

"That's the number one mission and goal of LifeHouse," Binkley said. "Not just to provide Band-Aid housing, but also the essentials, the education, the skill set to prepare for a succession plan so when they leave LifeHouse and that support, they don't return."

Community support 

Binkley said the expansion and early success LifeHouse has seen wouldn't be possible without the support the organization has received from the community.

"I've never seen the community come together for a project such as LifeHouse in this way," he said. "Just mind blowing."

Submitted by Jody Sentner
Submitted by Jody Sentner

Sentner said operating the shelter has been an empowering experience for her, and she continues to get positive feedback from clients long after they've left. Whether that's a Christmas card or a weekly phone call, residents are staying in touch, she said.

"It's really changed all of our lives, not just the residents," she said. "It's changed the staff's lives, it's changed my life. It feels like you're coming home."

Work to open men's shelter continues

Meanwhile, plans are also in place to create a new shelter for men in the Summerside area. The project is being led by the Native Council of P.E.I.

After weeks of discussion, Summerside's city council approved the Native Council's plans to run the shelter downtown.

Scott Carnall, housing development officer with the Native Council of P.E.I. said there are still renovations that need to be done to the shelter building on Winter St.

It will eventually have six beds for men in need.

"The main thing is that we do it correctly and make sure it's ready," Carnall said. "We're trying to provide as much support as we can to people who are in vulnerable situations and that's our main goal."

In a statement from the department of social development and housing, the province said staff are "in the process of planning the renovation work for the building ... as well as obtaining the appropriate approvals to do so."

It goes on to say the province has sent invitations to qualified bidders for that work, and expects to have bids submitted by next week.

Carnall said there isn't an opening date set yet, but that will likely come in the coming months.