A shelter in Lower Sackville received another round of funding from the province to keep its doors open until May 2024.
The overnight shelter on Metropolitan Avenue in Lower Sackville is in the former St. Elizabeth Seton Church and initially started as a warming centre that was open for two hours each night. The shelter is operated by the Beacon House Interfaith Society.
But as the unhoused population in Lower Sackville and surrounding areas grew, so did the need for an overnight shelter with more supports. The shelter has also since changed its name from the Sackville Area Warming Centre to Beacon House Shelter.
The funding from the Department of Community Services totals $412,000 and was included in the recent spring budget. The funding will cover operation costs for the shelter, staff salaries, plus food for clients.
Jim Gunn, a volunteer leader with Beacon House Interfaith Society, said they were “optimistic” they’d get more funding to keep operating.
“When you know you’re serving 26 people now, all the time, with good food, healthy food, and with overnight shelter and counselling and social workers, how can you stop that because the weather got better?” Gunn said in an interview on Thursday.
Beacon House also has six microshelters
There are also six microshelters in the parking lot of the former church. The microshelters, which have heat, air conditioning, and are surrounded by a fence for privacy, are all occupied by clients. Two of the tiny shelters are recent additions and were previously at the Christ Church in downtown Dartmouth. The costs for those shelters was funded by the Department of Community Services, United Way, and Coun. Paul Russell’s district capital fund. The other four microshelters were set up in November.
Gunn said they are in discussions to add two more microshelters to the site.
The shelter also has a staff that includes a social worker, a housing support worker, and a shelter coordinator. A mental health support worker is in on Saturdays and sometimes during the week to offer support to the clients.
Gunn said about 20 clients sleep at the overnight shelter each night. As for the occupants of the microshelters, Gunn said so far one client has found permanent housing.
Community supporting Beacon House
In February, Gunn, along with Cheryl Newcombe, who is also on Beacon House’s leadership support team, hosted a community meeting where residents could learn more about the work of the shelter and discuss any concerns they had. One couple, who lives not far from the shelter, had concerns about safety of students at a nearby junior high school and daycare.
“That family that raised some legitimate concerns about the risk and how it affects the community have since advised me they think it’s fine,” Gunn said. “There’s no other criticism that I’m aware of.”
Beacon House Interfaith also operates a retail store and food bank on Cobequid Road. Gunn said they were concerned about how the shelter would affect those operations, but he said it’s likely helped in a positive way. He said the sale of donated items to the retail store fund the costs of the food bank, which is seeing more clients as people struggle with the costs of groceries.
“The community really seems to have bought into the whole Beacon House,” Gunn said.
Gunn said while the shelter has been busy and is receiving plenty of support, he said they know long-term housing is still needed.
“I know there’s a community concern, it’s a provincial concern, it’s a country concern, so I can only be optimistic that down the road there will be solutions because it’s getting so much attention,” Gunn said. “The ideal would be one year this won’t be needed anymore. But that’s not in the foreseeable future.”
Still, Gunn said community residents and businesses donate time, money, and other goods to the shelter often. He said they’d like to update the laundry and shower facilities. He said any needs are listed on the Beacon House website and Facebook page. He also credits Beacon House’s board of directors for all of its work on the shelter and other Beacon House projects.
“The Beacon House motto that is on the Facebook [page], neighbours helping neighbours, that’s what’s happening here,” Gunn said. “The business community, the local community, the Sackville area are very supportive and that’s made this possible.”