Halifax councillors voted unanimously to approve $3.2 million for the purchase, installation, and maintenance of modular units for unhoused residents at two sites — one in Dartmouth and another in Halifax.
Although a location for the Halifax site has yet to be determined, four modular units that can accommodate 24 people will be installed on Alderney Drive near Church Street in Dartmouth “hopefully by the end of this month/early December,” HRM’s CAO Jacques Dubé told councillors during Tuesday afternoon’s meeting of regional council.
Upon further investigation, Dubé said the modular units that had originally been slated for use by people living in parks “will not meet our needs.”
In a media release issued late Tuesday afternoon, the municipality stated that while “previous updates indicated the municipality had purchased 24 modular units,” following inspection the purchase was rejected after HRM determined none were suitable.
On Tuesday morning, reporter Victoria Walton published a piece in The Coast titled ‘A look inside the 73 modular units rotting at a Halifax construction yard.’ While it wasn’t specifically mentioned during Tuesday afternoon’s council discussion, Coun. Tony Mancini seemed to allude to it when it was his turn to speak on the motion for emergency funding.
“I commend staff for recognizing what we were originally going to purchase was incorrect and we could’ve forced that and just showed up with that, and what you’re seeing on social media right now and pictures happening, that’s not what we’re presenting,” Mancini said. “These are to be brand-new units.”
Dubé said HRM will be sourcing new units from a Quebec-based company. While the Dartmouth site is expected to be up and running by the end of the month, the Halifax site will hopefully open sometime in January. Dube said it was all contingent on the province providing wraparound services.
Coun. Waye Mason described the delay for the purchase of new units as “heartbreaking and crushing,” adding that everyone is concerned about the weather and the fact it’s now dipping below zero at night. He encouraged unhoused people to use the Gray Arena for shelter until the modular units are set up.
“I know that time is pressing and I know everyone’s going to do what they can do to move heaven and earth to get these modulars here in time hopefully before it snows,” Mason said.
“And so I myself will go to bed tonight thinking warm thoughts about warm weather and all speed to these modulars coming in from western Canada.”
A few councillors, including Coun. Lisa Blackburn, expressed concerns about whether the province would play its part by providing much-needed funding for wraparound support services.
“My big question is do we have a detailed list of who is going to do what once these units arrive? Because everyone keeps saying wraparound services, wraparound services, and it’s a lovely catchphrase but what exactly are we going to be doing?” Blackburn said.
“On August 17 we had all the pieces in place too, or so we thought. So going into this when these modular units arrive, who’s doing what?”
Blackburn said they didn’t want to once again be “in a situation where we’re left holding the bag,” adding that when it comes to relying on the province to do what it says it is going to do, her approach is to “trust but verify.”
In its media release, HRM said it’s going to provide typical municipal services like garbage pick-up and will cover the cost of utilities and maintenance on the sites where the modular units will be located. The municipality estimates the costs to purchase, install, and maintain the units for the remainder of this year is $1.4 million with operating costs of $20,000 for the Dartmouth site and close to $1.7 million with operating costs of $20,000 for the Halifax site.
On Tuesday afternoon — about a half hour after council’s discussion about emergency funding had ended — the province announced it was providing $2.7 million to Out of the Cold Community Association to deliver wraparound, supportive housing services to those staying in HRM’s modular housing units.
In a media release, the province said Out of the Cold would provide services including permanent housing solutions, mental health and addictions support, life stability and community connections, and employment support. The association will also provide personalized case management and resident programming “in a supportive, harm-reduction focused setting.”
“This program will be offered to people who have been chronically homeless and are experiencing barriers to maintaining independent housing,” the province’s release said.
“Barriers could include poverty, criminalization, racism, homophobia, transphobia, food insecurity, inadequate access to physical and mental health supports, alcohol and substance use challenges, and varying levels of ability and life skills.”
The province’s media release also notes that as of November 9, there are 409 people experiencing homelessness in HRM.
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If Council had provided updates, Victoria Walton’s story would not have been necessary.