News

1. Funding to house homeless in hotels runs out next week

The Lord Nelson is one of three Halifax hotels being used to house about 100 formerly homeless people. Many may have nowhere to go when federal funding runs out next week. Photo: Halifax Examiner

The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free.

Dozens of homeless people now living in hotels in the city could be out on the street next week. Yvette d’Entremont talks with Jim Graham, executive director of the the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS), who says the funding to keep people in hotels runs out on June 30.

There are efforts being made to house people out of the shelter system and out of the hotels so that when we get to the end of the money, there’s as few people as possible that are unhoused.

As d’Entremont reports, the province and city opened two pop-up shelters in late March. There was a confirmed case of COVID-19 in one of those shelters on April 23. Thirty-five of the residents were moved to a hotel. The province announced on May 7 it would no longer pay for those people to stay at the hotel. AHANS said it would use federal money to keep those people there.

D’Entremont talks with Tyler Ledden who is staying at the Lord Nelson, but doesn’t know where he’ll go after June 30. Ledden tells d’Entremont he was staying at the Salvation Army shelter and working on getting his own place when the pandemic hit.

I’m scrambling myself to find out where I’m going to go. I’m living in limbo. You’re basically living in a state of pressing pause and now it’s boom, press play again, but going full fast forward. I’m just trying to make sure that next week I have a roof over my head.

The government forced me to be here, and now they’re just stopping it and sticking their heads in the sand and saying good luck to you, see you later. Especially where there’s a lot of us, there should be some kind of a transitional period.

Read the full story here.

2. Port Wallace gamble

Dirt biking on tailings contaminated with arsenic at Montague Mines. Photo courtesy Michael Parsons

Tim Bousquet wrote this item.

In early March, the Examiner published a three-part series reported by Joan Baxter headlined “Port Wallace gamble: The real estate boom meets Nova Scotia’s toxic mine legacy.” In the series, Baxter makes the connection between the toxic legacy of historic gold mining in Dartmouth and how that affects those living in the area today, especially given that very large and connected corporations are trying to develop the area, potentially stirring up the toxic mine tailings.

They are:

Part 1: The making of a toxic mess and the uncalculated costs of previous gold rushes.

Part 2: the suburb proposed to be built in the shadow of Montague Gold Mines

Part 3: Cleaning up the historic tailings from Montague Gold Mines – Does Port Wallace development hang in the balance?

I was excited to have the Examiner publish the Port Wallace series, but then it was eclipsed by all things coronavirus. I think it deserves renewed attention, and so we’ve taken all three parts out from behind the paywall.

Still, this kind of in-depth reporting requires significant resources, both money and time. Please consider subscribing to support this work.

3. Police shouldn’t be doing wellness checks

Phil Moscovitch. Photo: Contributed

Phil Moscovitch writes about police and wellness checks in the Globe and Mail. But for Moscovitch this is deeply personal. Moscovitch shares how he and his partner called police to do a wellness check on their son.

I was so naïve that when I first heard of wellness checks—calls for police to check on someone in crisis—I thought they were a good idea.

But police kill people during wellness checks. They kill people with mental illness, as my son said, “all the time.” And the killings of people with mental illness—particularly people of colour—continue even in the midst of global protests against police violence.

Moscovitch points to cases in which people were killed during wellness checks, including Chantel Moore, who was killed on June 4 in Edmunston, New Brunswick.

Moscovitch says there are better ways to help those with mental illness. This would be a true, and safe, wellness check.

Give us well-trained teams of professionals and peers who understand mental illness, who are compassionate and fluent in de-escalation techniques and non-violent communication. Who listen instead of shouting. Who don’t have weapons. Who are there just to help. Those are the people I would call.

Read Moscovitch’s story here.

Meanwhile, Alex Cooke at CBC talks with Ingrid Waldron, an associate professor at Dalhousie University’s School of Nursing, who says wellness checks need a rethink and that police aren’t trained or equipped to deal with people with mental illness.

That’s a very specialized skill … dealing with individuals who have mental health issues and being able to interact with them in a non-aggressive way. I think police may engage in these interactions expecting something to go wrong, and their behaviour is shaped by that expectation.

4. No new cases, no active cases of COVID-19

Nova Scotia is reporting no new cases of COVID-19 and no active cases. Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

Nova Scotia hasn’t had a new case of COVID-19 for 13 days. And as Karla Renic with Global News reports, Monday marked the first day with no active cases of the virus since March.

We also learned the a man in his 60s who died several weeks ago, did die from the virus. The  death of the man, who wasn’t in long-term care and lived in the central zone, was under investigation.

Dr. Robert Strang warned that people might feel a false sense of security as the province slowly reopened. Michael Gorman at CBC reports that Strang says people must still follow public health protocols, including physical distancing, gathering restrictions, regular and proper handwashing and coughing etiquette. “We need everybody to understand that the way we keep our economy and our communities open is for everybody to practise all those public health measures,” Strang told Gorman over a phone interview.

Halifax Public Libraries announced its branches would start offering in-person services on July 7.

And tourism operators in Atlantic Canada, including the Harbour Hopper, are looking at ways to adapt to restrictions to save part of the tourism season.

5. Mayor, council to talk wage freeze

Councillor Shawn Cleary is proposing a wage freeze for councillors and the mayor.

Mayor Mike Savage and the city’s councillors will talk about freezing their own wages at today’s council meeting.

Pam Berman at CBC reports that for the past two years, pay raises for Savage and councillors have been tied to year-over-year average weekly earnings increase for workers in Nova Scotia. That figure is calculated by Statistics Canada. In November 2018, the mayor and councillors got a 1% increase and in 2019 they received a 4.3% pay hike.

Councillor Shawn Cleary is proposing pay be frozen until October 31, 2021, adding those year-over-year average weekly earnings may have gone up because of bonuses and extra pay given to essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Says Cleary, “How can we in good conscience entertain a raise?”


Views

Domestic violence, accessibility, and the Not Without Us Project

The Not Without Us Project, a partnership between Easter Seals Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities, looked at the challenges women with disabilities faced leaving situations of domestic violence. Photo: Nayeli Dalton/Unsplash

For the past year, I worked on a project called Not Without Us, which is a partnership between Easter Seals Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities. The mass shootings in April have raised awareness around domestic violence, but this has been an issue for here for many years. Over 12 sessions, two hours each, I met with more than 65 women and staff who all shared their stories. At each meeting we talked about housing, communication, policing, stigma, transit, transportation, and more. You can read the final report here. 

First, Nova Scotia is a very inaccessible province. We more than doubled the number of community sessions we originally planned because it was easier for me to drive to meet the women than have them find a way to meet me. Public transit is limited or non-existent in many communities. For example, I was surprised to learn there’s no public transit in the New Glasgow area. We hosted the meetings at NSCC campuses, which are accessible, and provided transportation when needed.

Transition houses across the province have varying degrees of accessibility. It’s not for the lack of effort of the staff working at the shelters, though (I’ll talk about them in a bit). But no able-bodied person in the province would tolerate what people with disabilities tolerate just to live their lives. The waiting for cabs, if there are accessible cabs; no accessible transit; inability to access buildings. When we make spaces accessible for people with disabilities, we don’t make them inaccessible for everyone else. That includes safe spaces for women with disabilities leaving situations of domestic violence. The only count of accessible public housing we could find was that 400 of 2,400 housing units in the western zone (Kings, Annapolis, Digby, Yarmouth, Shelburne, Queens, and Lunenburg counties) are accessible. No one is tracking the numbers of accessible housing units elsewhere.

There is awareness that this is an issue, though. Certainly, the staff I met with know women with disabilities have challenges accessing and navigating services, but others I spoke with know it’s an issue, too. I called all the cab companies in every community I visited and some of the owners wanted to get accessible vehicles, but the cost was too much to take on.

There were some issues that came up in every meeting. When a woman calls a transition house, she’s asked if she can live independently. Can she cook, clean, take care of herself? If she can’t, she can’t access the services of a transition house. Home care is an issue for many women with disabilities. In many cases, the abuser is also the caregiver. Transition houses need home care workers as part of their services. Another issue we found is one for women with intellectual disabilities. While these women can physically access transition houses, they have challenges navigating other systems. They need someone to guide them.

We talked about policing and the responses were mixed. Women and staff talked about slow response times, not enough officers in their community, the reluctance of people to report to police, and a “wild west” atmosphere, particularly in rural communities. One woman told me about being handcuffed to her wheelchair when police visited her home after a domestic dispute. Another mentioned being denied a sign language interpreter. Others said officers didn’t understand much about abuse that wasn’t physical, or they felt interrogated by officers.

Some staff said the officers who were best when working with women were those with empathetic personalities or who had training in trauma-informed care. I learned an RCMP officer in one community organized a system so women who needed to give video statements could do so at the women’s resource centre, and not at the detachment, which is across the street from the town’s Tim Hortons. This is important in protecting women’s privacy and allowing them to give statements in a safe space. I met with a group of women in Truro and when I asked them about the Truro Police Service, they told me the officers they dealt with were nice, “gentle,” even.

Almost everyone I met with was from the community in which we met, so learned a lot about the culture in each of those communities. There is a lot of stigma around domestic violence across the province. Domestic abuse is normalized, minimized, and still considered a private family issue. There are still many who are in denial that it happens here. We saw that after the April shootings. But all the women I met with know well that it has existed here for a long time and destroys women’s lives. One woman said she heard in her community men “beat their women like it’s the 1950s.” It doesn’t matter what community that was — I heard similar stories elsewhere.

Someone asked me if there was a story shared by a woman that stands out. How do you choose one? One woman told me about the night she left her abuser and how eventually, with the support of the local transition house and women’s resource centre, she regained her confidence and independence. Another woman told me how her abuser smashed her head on the floor, leaving her with neurological disorders that prevented her from finding a job. A mother whose daughter was diagnosed with an illness that left her disabled and had been in abusive relationships talked about taking care of her grandsons. Her daughter felt trapped, wanted to go back to school, and get back out but there were limited resources where they lived.

Some of the staff I met with are survivors of domestic violence, or they talked about growing up in abusive homes. I heard about the cycles of abuse, which often included alcoholism, drug use, poverty, and illiteracy. But there are women out there we couldn’t meet. It simply wasn’t safe for women with disabilities currently in situations of domestic violence to leave to meet with me for two hours. They are socially and geographically isolated. That isolation is part of the abuse. I remember driving home from one of the meetings and thinking if you’re a woman with a disability in rural Nova Scotia and you don’t have a car or a cell phone and you’re being abused by your caregiver, you’re not getting out. There have to be more ways to get to them.

Women of colour, immigrant women, Indigenous women, and women in the LGBTQ communities face other issues as well, including racism, lack of cultural understanding and homophobia. These concerns need to be reflected in any solutions for women in these communities.

At one meeting, I met with a group of women who work at various organizations. Some of the women cover a large geographic area on their own. I don’t know how often these women meet, but over two hours they brainstormed and came up with all sorts of ideas and shared knowledge and stories. This was so beneficial to my research. These women are experts in their field. At other meetings, I talked with staff who told me about meeting with women on the side of country roads, sitting on tree stumps, and writing out a safety plan with a woman while her abuser was at work. At many of the meetings, I asked staff the question: if money weren’t an issue, what would they do? After they stopped laughing, because lack of funding is always an issue, many knew exactly what they needed to provide to women leaving situations of domestic violence, including those women with disabilities. We need to listen to these women, too.

The report includes several recommendations, including accessibility surveys at transition houses, creating a database on accessible housing, community committees on accessibility, and a home care pilot project to research how home care can transition to a shelter for those women who need it. All of the recommendations were shaped by the women, both survivors and staff, that I met over the dozen meetings. This is what happens when you have women at the table and listen to them. You hear their stories but also learn what they need to leave abusive situations, navigate systems, and live independent lives.

While the women I met with have lots of ideas, it’s still frustrating to me that women are expected to solve the violence perpetrated against them by men.

This report is just a start, but I think it’s a good start. The recommendations in the report are achievable. We hope to present the report to the province soon, but we’ll be hosting an event on December 3, and I’ll report the findings there.

So, what can we all do? First, acknowledge that domestic violence is a reality in Nova Scotia and that violence is greater for women with disabilities who can’t access spaces of safety. Second, support the work of transition houses and women’s resource centres in your community. You can learn more about Bryony House or the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia (THANS). Women’s resource centres are listed at Women’s Centre Connect. Learn about bystander training. And learn about accessibility in your community. Remember, accessibility is not just a ramp at a building. Women with disabilities have different needs, challenges, and lives. What accessibility looks like for each woman depends on the disability itself.

This work needs to happen in communities and it must include women with disabilities, the staff who work with them, as well as men in the community, too. We have to talk more about domestic violence and accessibility and the conversations have to start in schools, churches, and service groups. Elected leaders at all levels of government must talk about accessibility and domestic violence. Domestic violence is not a private or family issue. As Andrea Gunraj, vice-president of public engagement with the Canadian Women’s Foundation told me in this piece I wrote on male violence, “men who are privately dangerous to women are publicly dangerous to everyone.” This is our collective issue.

And finally, listen to women and the experts who work with them. They know what they need. Listening is always a good start.


Noticed

I don’t know what the sweet hell this is, but Joan Helson tweeted this out last night. It’s a brand of candy produced being sold at Sobeys. Helson wrote:

It’s 2020 and this is what passes for cool with candy maker #mondoux and the folks at @sobeys “Sweet Sixteen: barely legal levels of sweetness”.

Mondoux’s Sweet Sixteen Candy, Barely legal levels of sweetness

Helson wasn’t the only one who noticed the candy. Ian Brodie saw the candies on sale at Sobeys in Antigonish.

Sobeys replied to Helson and several other people on Twitter:

I  emailed Sobeys and spokesperson Natasha Compton wrote back and said the same thing: “The marketing campaign for this product is not inline with our values at Sobeys. We’ve taken immediate action and are removing this product from our shelves.”

The candy is made by Quebec-based confectionary Mondoux. I emailed them last night about this, but haven’t heard back yet. But I’d like to be at the meeting with its marketing team today.


Government

City

Tuesday

Special Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, ) — virtual meeting; agenda here.

Wednesday

Special North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — teleconference; agenda here.

Province

No meetings.


In the harbour

08:00: Golden Magnum, bulker, arrives at anchorage from Mundra, India
09:00: CMA CGM Libra, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Marsaxlokk, Malta
11:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at anchorage from St. John’s
14:30: Golden Magnum sails for sea


Footnotes

I hit the snooze button on my alarm eight times this morning.

Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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