A warming centre and overnight shelter in Lower Sackville is now open for clients, while one of the volunteers with the society that runs the shelter says micro shelters will be set up on site in the next week.
Jim Gunn is a volunteer leader with the Beacon Interfaith Society, which has run a food bank and retail store in the community for decades. The society also runs the warming shelter and overnight shelter, which opened Monday night, at the former St. Elizabeth Seton Church at 125 Metropolitan Ave. The warming centre and overnight shelter will be open seven nights a week.
Like in Halifax and Dartmouth, Lower Sackville has seen an increase of people living rough or in tents. Right now, there are a few cots set up for the overnight shelter, but Gunn said the Red Cross will be providing beds that will be set up in the former sanctuary of the building.
“The tents are up here and everywhere,” Gunn said. “The need kept growing.”
The warming centre served clients last year and this fall when Hurriane Fiona hit the province. Gunn said how many people show up at the centre really depends on the weather.
“We anticipate when the real heavy winter weather is here for sure, we’ll likely get guests coming out from the city,” Gunn said. “We’re not expecting a great large number using the overnight shelter from the Sackville area, but we understand there will be an overload from the city who may get transported out.”
Gunn said Beacon House Interfaith Society receives funding from the Department of Community Services to hire staff and security for the overnight shelter. The department also funds a full-time social worker who Gunn said works with about 60 clients in Lower Sackville, but also as far away as Elmsdale. Gunn said many of those clients have already lost their homes or are about to lose their home.
Gunn said the society has also received funding from the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia to pay for a six-month contract for a mental health support worker for the clients.
Micro shelters to be on site
Meanwhile, four micro shelters are almost ready and Gunn said those will be set up in the shelter’s parking lot in about a week. The society partnered with the United Way of Halifax for the funding to build those shelters.
Gunn said Halifax regional councillors Lisa Blackburn, Paul Russell, and Cathy Deagle-Gammon are pooling their resources to cover the costs of hooking the shelters up for heat and lights.
Gunn said they don’t know yet who will be living in the micro shelters, adding “that has to be a careful selection.” There are a handful of residents now living in a tent encampment at a baseball field at the corner of Cobequid Road and Glendale Avenue. Gunn said Beacon House doesn’t manage that site, but he suspects the residents there know about the micro shelters.
Gunn said families and businesses have donated a washer and dryer, showers, and food to the shelter. He added there will be a public meeting on Thursday, Dec. 15 where the community can ask questions or express concerns about the shelter.
“The response of the community has been wonderful,” Gunn said. “We never know what’s coming next, but it’s good.”
Beacon House also organized a group called Sackville Area Shelter and Housing (SASH), which is advocating for long-term solutions for the housing crisis in the area..
“The ideal is we shouldn’t need this,” Gunn said. “We shouldn’t need a warming centre or micro shelters or an overnight shelter. There should be enough affordable housing in our community that we don’t need this. It’s going to be a while before we see that.”