Mayor Mike Savage will write a letter to the province asking it to keep an overnight shelter in Dartmouth running into the summer.
Deputy Mayor Sam Austin, the councillor for Dartmouth Centre, brought the motion to council’s meeting on Tuesday. Austin’s motion directed Savage to write a letter “asking that the Province keep the shelter operating at 61 Dundas Street, Dartmouth open, or provide alternate space, and that the Province adopt the same approach of maintaining capacity for the other emergency shelters that it is funding in HRM.”
The 20-bed shelter for men at Christ Church Hall opened in December 2022, operated by 902 Man Up nightly from 9pm to 7am. The province originally leased the space from the church until April 30, but later extended to May 31.
“It has been needed and it has been effective,” Austin said on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, the province has indicated, they wrote Christ Church, indicating that they’re terminating the lease with them and so this shelter comes to the end on May 31.”
Austin said he’s not surprised, given the shelter was meant to be temporary. But he argued it reflects an outdated view of the homelessness crisis.
“I think the old way of doing these things of, ‘We’re going to stand up a shelter in the winter because in the winter, really, people really, really can’t be outside,’ it’s pretty outdated given how this crisis has just totally overwhelmed us,” Austin said.
“We’re at a point where there’s no space to be had. So why are we closing down spaces that exist out there?”
Austin said the message from the province is that it’s fine for people to sleep outside in the summer.
Councillor argues closure is ‘definitely premature’
“They’re essentially giving them an eviction notice and without providing any alternative place for them to go,” Coun. Patty Cuttell said.
“I think that this is really quite questionable, particularly when there is demonstrated need for shelters and for housing right now. It’s definitely premature, and I hope the province does the right thing and extends that lease and keeps people in. It’s not appropriate housing, but it is better than being outside in the elements in parks.”
Coun. Pam Lovelace asked whether other shelters are at risk of closing. Deputy chief administrative officer Denise Schofield said the province told HRM another shelter operated by 902 Man Up, on North Park Street in Halifax, would stay open. Schofield said chief administrative officer Cathie O’Toole has written to the province to request a formal meeting on the issue.
“We’re just hopeful that that will be happening in the next number of weeks,” Schofield said.
Austin said it’s possible the province has a plan, but he’s not hopeful.
“Unfortunately, reality over the last two years has often left me more disappointed than overjoyed,” he said.
Province says it will work to house shelter residents
Department of Community Services (DCS) spokesperson Christina Deveau told the Halifax Examiner the shelter will close on May 31.
“DCS shares HRM council’s concern for the wellbeing of people experiencing homelessness in Dartmouth. We are working closely with 902 Man Up, the service provider for Christ Church shelter, in preparing for the closure,” Deveau wrote in an email.
“Over the coming weeks, their Shelter Navigator will meet with each guest to explore available community resources, support housing searches, and make referrals to appropriate housing programs. For guests unable to transition to permanent housing options, we will explore temporary accommodation options with them.”
There are 10 to 18 people at the shelter nightly, Deveau said.
Austin’s motion passed unanimously.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, council directed O’Toole “to explore on behalf of the municipality, bilateral or multilateral Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), to support homeless and precariously housed individuals and increase housing supply.”
Any agreements reached would be non-binding. Per the staff report, negotiations “will focus on outcomes and tactics articulated in the homelessness framework – particularly those tactics focused on residents sheltering outside.”