While it was cold and snowing outside on Wednesday, Community Services Minister Trevor Boudreau was feeling the heat inside the Nova Scotia legislature. Opposition leader Zach Churchill repeatedly asked Boudreau where 1,000 homeless people in HRM would sleep tonight.
Boudreau told the politicians, and later reporters, that a location for a 50-bed emergency shelter has been secured. Boudreau said a community group will operate the winter facility but he wouldn’t reveal where the building is located or how soon it will be available. Boudreau said a contract has been signed and the temporary shelter will be up and running this month.
“When they were told last summer that homelessness doubled, the government brushed it off. The (former community services) minister compared it to summer camping and said it was a natural evolution to see more people homeless in the summer,” Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said.
“That’s why they didn’t act and that’s why we have 1,000 people homeless in the city when it’s snowing. If they had ordered shelters in the summer when the red flags were raised, they would be here by now.”
Churchill is referring to the 200 temporary shelters made by a company called Pallet that are expected to arrive in December. One-hundred of those shelters will be located in HRM and the rest distributed elsewhere in the province.
Boudreau said progress is also being made to set up temporary winter shelters in Bridgewater and Amherst with previously announced funding from the province.
‘There are people who live rough all year round’
During a scrum with reporters, Premier Tim Houston was asked if he thought there would be people sleeping in tents all winter.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Houston said. “I know it’s come up before with the changing of the seasons — I read a CBC article where a gentleman said ‘I sleep rough all year round.’ There’s no question there are more people sleeping in tents in the summer than in February. There are people who live rough all year round and that’s a sad fact in the state of the world.”
Houston appeared to be suggesting that for some people, sleeping outdoors is a lifestyle choice. While that may be accurate for a relatively small number of people with mental health or addiction issues, it’s not a statement NDP Leader Claudia Chender would let go unchallenged.
“Nothing the government has announced will come close to accommodating the number of of people sleeping rough,” Chender said.
“There is a very simple solution to people sleeping outside and it’s to offer them housing. So, the idea we have a government who thinks it’s ok for people to be sleeping outside, I think is unconscionable. It’s not something most Nova Scotians would think is representative of their views.”
Boudreau said the PC government has spent tens of millions of dollars establishing 417 units to support homeless people in the past two years. These include leasing a hotel near the Macdonald Bridge and renovating another hotel in Burnside that also provide medical and social supports.