A shelter in downtown Dartmouth is closing next week, likely leaving some of the people staying there with nowhere to go.
The provincial Department of Community Services opened the shelter in Christ Church Hall on Dundas Street in December. With 20 beds for men, 902 Man Up operated the shelter nightly from 9pm to 7am. The lease was originally up at the end of April, but the province extended it to the end of May.
In March, Halifax regional council voted in favour of a motion from Deputy Mayor Sam Austin to direct Mayor Mike 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.”
As the Halifax Examiner reported, Austin, the councillor for Dartmouth Centre, said at the time that the closure reflects an outdated view of the homelessness crisis: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to stand up a shelter in the winter because in the winter, really, people really, really can’t be outside,’ it’s pretty outdated given how this crisis has just totally overwhelmed us,” Austin said.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.
Shelter to close next week
In an email on Thursday, Department of Community Services spokesperson Christina Deveau confirmed the shelter would close May 31.
“The Christ Church shelter was meant to be a temporary shelter during the winter months, and the extended lease is set to end May 31, 2023,” Deveau wrote.
Deveau said 902 Man Up’s shelter navigator is working with the clients to find options for them.
“The Shelter Navigator has met 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. We will work diligently with our service partner and the client to find appropriate alternatives,” Deveau wrote.
“Other shelters, hotels, and programs are being explored with each person to ensure their needs are met.”
902 Man Up looking for space for shelter residents
Denise LaVangie, shelter manager with 902 Man Up, said the Christ Church shelter is full almost every night. 902 Man Up is working to find a roof for everyone staying there.
“We’re trying our best to make sure that everybody has a solution. We don’t want them in tents, and we’re trying everything we possibly can to prevent that. That will be our last resort,” LaVangie said in an interview Friday.
Around five of the residents have registered for single rooms in apartments, and LaVangie said 902 Man Up is working on solutions for another 10 people.
“We are going to try to prevent them from being in tents, as much as we can, but we can only do so much,” LaVangie said.
“It’s really hard out there. I don’t know if people realize the severity of it.”
Many of the shelter’s clients are seniors, LaVangie said.
“This city is in crisis,” LaVangie said. “I mean, who wants to see a 73-year-old on the street because their rent doubled?”
LaVangie said shelters are a short-term solution; what’s needed is real, long-term affordable housing.
LaVangie also noted the community has not been welcoming of the Christ Church shelter.
“They have complained and they do not want us there one bit,” LaVangie said.
“When we were closing, they wanted to make sure that we weren’t coming back.”
‘Dereliction of duty’
Austin said in an interview on Thursday he’s worried people will have to sleep in tents, and he places the blame at the province’s feet.
“Several of them are going to end up living in parks in downtown Dartmouth instead,” Austin said.
Austin said the province suggested those people could go to the Beacon House shelter in Sackville, but it’s full.
The province recently leased the DoubleTree Hotel on Wyse Road to open a new shelter and clinic. As Suzanne Rent reported in April, the nonprofits picked to run the space were hiring staff. But according to Austin, the rooms there aren’t ready.
“There’s rooms in the DoubleTree that could have people in it but they’re not ready,” Austin said.
That leaves a gap for people currently staying at the Christ Church shelter.
“And so what’s the sensible thing to do in the interim? If you’ve got a gap and you know you can’t fill it, keep the shelter that is putting a roof over people’s heads open until you’re ready to close that and then move people into other space,” Austin said.
“To close that space and provide no alternative, I mean, this is a dereliction of duty. At best, it’s incompetence. At worst, it’s heartlessness.”