Two non-profit organizations working with the province on a new clinic and shelter in downtown Dartmouth are now hiring staff for the service.
In a news release on Friday, the province announced it’s setting up a new clinic, the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada, in the former Double Tree Hotel on Wyse Road. The hotel is already being used as a shelter. The clinic will serve people who are unhoused who previously had to stay longer in hospitals because they didn’t have permanent housing.
Sheri Lecker is the executive director of Adsum. She said the province invited Adsum and Welcome Housing to be part of the project. The two organizations have been working together on a shelter diversion project since January 2022.
Adsum is supporting 150 people, including 68 children, who are staying at hotels across the HRM. Lecker said Welcome Housing is also supporting clients at other hotels.
Lecker said the details on this new clinic were finalized in the last week.
“It’s about trying to support people for their immediate needs for a safe place to be, but to respond to their needs around health care,” Lecker said in an interview on Monday.
“There are still a lot of details we are working out. We didn’t see the space until two weeks ago. We’ve only started to have conversations with health because, of course, that will be an important collaboration.”
‘We will be collaborating on all the pieces’
Lecker said she and other staff from Adsum and Welcome Housing spent a week in Toronto in late March learning about similar shelter-health care clinics in that city’s downtown.
Some of those clinic-shelters were set up early in the COVID pandemic, Lecker said, and served as a place where unhoused people could recover from COVID. She said over time those clinics evolved to continue to support the unhoused population in that city.
Lecker said Adsum and Welcome Housing are supporting about 80 clients who are now staying at the shelter. Lecker said there are 206 rooms in the hotel and the clinic will occupy one floor of the building. The shelter will be staffed 24-7.
“Over time, we will be able to bring more people inside,” Lecker said. “It’s not going to be Day 1 when we can do that. Then there is going to be a seven-day-a-week clinic on the main floor. There will be health care and other support that will be more easily accessible and we hope will provide more stability to people who are experiencing homelessness while they wait for and we work with them to find permanent housing.”
Staffing up the shelter
On the weekend, Adsum shared a post on its social media advertising for jobs available at the shelter. Adsum and Welcome Housing will be hiring full and part-time staff, and are offering wages of $25/hour, plus benefits.
“We will be collaborating on all the pieces. It’s important we do that,” Lecker said. “We bring a lot of strengths and different strengths to this work. We’ve both been doing this shelter diversion program for 16 months now and we know the folks who are in the hotel now, but we also know many people who are outside who are hoping to be temporarily housed in this shelter.”
Lecker said they will hire about 55 to 60 new staff members over the next few weeks. So far, they’ve hired two staff, a manager of operations and manager of client supports.
“We will be building a team, we’ll be starting interviews later this week and I’m sure they’ll have to continue for some time because we’re bringing so many people on board,” Lecker said. “We’ll do training on site, we’ll run the floors where people are already staying, and eventually as we add more staff, we’ll be able to open more floors.”
The Department of Health and Wellness will hire the staff for the clinic. According to the news release, clinic staff will include a wellness co-ordinator, a continuing-care co-ordinator, a community outreach worker and other health care workers. The Examiner contacted the department for details on its hiring process for the clinic. Department spokesperson Khalela Perrault sent along this response via email:
Staff positions will be filled through a number of organizations that will be contributing to services at this location. Nova Scotia Health, Seniors and Long Term Care and the Department of Community Services funded service provider will all have staff at the site to deliver services for those using the facility for temporary housing. Some existing services may be expanded to this location, not requiring additional staffing; however, we do expect that there will be a variety of positions to be filled including housing support workers and clinical staff. The hiring process is currently underway.
The closure of the hotel means 80 unionized workers there are out of a job. The province said it’s working with the staff for the transition and workers have been offered alternate employment.
Not a solution to the housing crisis
Lecker said this shelter is also an opportunity to work with provincial government departments they haven’t typically worked with. Besides the Department of Health, other government departments in the collaboration include Community Services; Labour, Skills and Immigration; and Seniors and Long-Term Care, as well as the Office of Addictions and Mental Health and Nova Scotia Health.
“That’s the piece that’s new,” Lecker said.
“We had a first conversation and we’ll be having more about what services and supports people are going to want and need and will it make a difference if those services are in the very same building where people have been living … Perhaps they’ll be more likely to attend other appointments and take care of things they ignored or didn’t have the sense of safety to address.”
While the clinic will be the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada, Lecker points out it’s not a solution to the housing crisis. She said Adsum will continue to advocate for permanent housing, adding the crisis is a “state of emergency” in Canada.
“People have been arriving here from other provinces hoping they could get space at this hotel, not only from neighbouring provinces, but from farther afield. That’s because across this country we are facing a real humanitarian crisis. People are on the move because they are looking for something better than a park bench, or a tent, or a boat, or somewhere not safe,” Lecker said.
“This initiative, by no means, replaces the need for immediate and strategic and concerted investment, not only for a year or two, but for the long term, for the needs we have for permanent housing. This is not housing. It’s shelter, it’s services, it’s temporary, it’s not a home, and we have got to continue to work to ensure we have permanent solutions.”