News

1. Domestic violence support worker aims to fill housing, support gaps

The team at Welcome Housing and Support Services. Photo: Contributed

Halifax’s Welcome Housing and Support Services now has a worker dedicated to helping “survivors of domestic violence find housing and other services,” Suzanne Rent reports.

Intimate partner case manager Kay Spurr tells Rent that intimate partner violence is often a factor in homelessness, and that there are many people not served by the transition house and shelter systems. From the story:

“That system is designed around a specific path, which is women leave male partners, go to a shelter, go to a transition house from there, and then second-stage or affordable housing. The idea of this position is to fill the gaps within the violence-against-women, transition house system,” [Spurr says.]

Her clients are often people who prefer not to go to the traditional shelter system. They may have pets, have male-led families or have adult sons/family members who can’t go to a transition house…

People are only able to stay in a transition house for six weeks, although shelters can be flexible at times, and Spurr said it’s almost impossible to find housing within that timeframe.

Read the full story here, including the gut-punch final quote from Spurr.

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2. Another smashingly successful season for the Yarmouth ferry (no)

The Alakai, docked at Yarmouth in 2019. Photo: Suzanne Rent

This item is written by Tim Bousquet.

The 2022 ferry season ended last week, and yesterday Bay Ferries released figures showing that the Yarmouth ferry carried just 36,151 passengers this year.

As recently as Sept. 1, Bay Ferries had forecast a passenger number of between 37,000 and 41,000. In yesterday’s release, the company said that “the estimated impact of Hurricane Fiona was a loss in the order of 2,000 passengers on sailings before, during, and after the hurricane period.”

The contract with Bay Ferries was premised on a projected passenger load of 60,000 annually.

Here are the passenger numbers since the Bay Ferries service started:
2016 — 35,466 passengers
2017 — 38,933 passengers
2018 — 50,187 passengers
2019 — 0 passengers
2020 — 0 passengers
2021 — 0 passengers
2022 — 36,151 passengers

I’ve been trying to calculate the exact dollar figure for the cost of that service, which includes rebuilding the Bar Harbour ferry terminal, an annual management fee of $1.17 million year paid to Bay Ferries, as well as a subsidy paid to the company when the 60,000-passenger target is not met, but there are so many moving parts that it will take me a while to reach an exact figure. Still, it’s in the ballpark of $75 million, which equates to about $466 per passenger.

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3. Latest COVID numbers

Shouldn’t this be a Corona typewriter? Photo: Markus Winkler/Unsplash

This item is written by Tim Bousquet.

The COVID-19 Epidemiologic Summary for the month of September was released yesterday. It shows that 14 people died in Nova Scotia from COVID in September ⁠— 13 of whom were 70 years old or older, and seven of whom lived in long-term care facilities.

The monthly death count for September is a decrease from August’s death count, but the report notes that “deaths are subject to a lag in reporting. The number of deaths reported in the current and previous months should be interpreted with caution.” Indeed, the August death count has been revised upward, from 33 as reported in the Sept. 15 summary to 49 as reported yesterday. We should expect September’s numbers to also increase in next month’s report.

With that caveat, the following graph shows the number and seven-day moving average of COVID-19 deaths by date of death, Mar. 1st to Sept. 30, 2022 (296 people died through that period). Purple is September.

During the Mar. 1 to Sept. 30 period, 296 people died from COVID, and 1,550 people were hospitalized because of the disease. Their ages are captured in this table:

Also in September, 205 people were hospitalized because of COVID, a very slight decrease from 208 in July.

The following table shows the age-adjusted hospitalization and death rates by vaccine status, also for Mar. 1, 2022 to Sept. 30, 2022.

“Person-years” means the number of people over a set period of time. So, if you study 100 people over one year, there are 100 person-years, and if you study 10 people over 10 years, there are also 100 person years. In this case, the people are being studied over seven months (Mar. 1 – Sept. 30).

The “crude rate” is the number of people who were hospitalized or died in each category, per 100,000 in each vaccination status.

“Age-adjusted” recognizes that Nova Scotia’s population skews elderly and is better vaccinated than other jurisdictions in Canada, so to make meaningful comparisons, the data reflect what the rate would be if Nova Scotia reflected the “standard” Canadian age and vaccination distribution.

Lastly, there were 4,664 new lab-confirmed (PCR tests) of COVID in September, compared to 6,883 in August. But this is a very weak metric, as many people can’t access or don’t bother to get PCR tests.

In short, the number of people dying from COVID appears to be coming down, hospitalizations are about level, and who knows about new cases.

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4. Dal teaching assistants could strike tomorrow

Dalhousie University’s Henry Hicks academic building in July, 2021. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Teaching assistants at Dalhousie may strike as early as tomorrow over low pay, Paul Palmeter reports for CBC.

The teaching assistants and other part-time academics at Dalhousie have not received a raise since 2019.  Given the skyrocketing rise in inflation and the cost of living, they say a raise is long overdue.

“The situation was already bad three years ago,” said Gabor Lukacs, communications officer with CUPE Local 3912 which represents teaching assistants. “Other universities have been receiving further raises and we have been without a collective agreement for two years now.”…

Dalhousie teachers’ assistants are paid $24 per hour. By comparison, the union says a teachers’ assistant at the University of Western Ontario is paid double that amount.

Palmeter also speaks to a couple of students who, instead of showing solidarity, worry that there might be a delay in their grades getting back to them, since TAs do all their marking.

As the story notes, TAs do a lot more than that, of course, which also makes you wonder if they are so critical to the functioning of classes at the university why they are not paid better. (I wish I could remember what I was paid to TA years ago. No idea. Not much.)

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5. Students, seniors and a lack of affordable housing

Meagher Park, aka People’s Park, in November 2021. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

Mary Campbell plans to launch a housing series at the Cape Breton Spectator, but for now she shares a few thoughts on housing in CBRM and the real-world impacts of bad data on policy and affordability.

Apparently, the student housing crisis is so bad that international students are just randomly knocking on doors asking residents if they can rent a room. Campbell writes:

An international student from Nepal… knocked on my mother’s door in September hoping she might have a room to rent him. He had found himself a job but his accommodations were temporary and he was desperate to find something he could afford, close to his place of work. In the course of a few weeks, he went from couch-surfing at a friend’s, to living in an attic in the North End (he showed us a video of the room, it was a dump), to finding a room with a “granny” who packed him lunches and cooked him meals and hoped she could make the arrangement permanent. I sincerely hope it worked out.

His arrival reminded me that I’d had exactly the same experience with an international student in the winter of 2019. He’d knocked on my door hoping to find a room to rent. His budget — $350/month — would have severely narrowed his options. As it happens, I can tell you exactly what $350/month bought you in Sydney that winter because the Post‘s Nicole Sullivan wrote, at the time, about two CBU students who were paying $350/month each to live in a windowless garage with neither kitchen nor bathroom facilities (they were expected to use those in the owner’s house).

Campbell notes that the Cape Breton University off-campus living site showed exactly seven listings as of Oct. 11 (although presumably most students have already found housing by then) with the cheapest being a room for $500/month.

But according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation numbers, Campbell says, there is no vacancy crisis in CBRM:

CMHC defines the “primary” market for rental housing as “units in buildings in which there are at least three rentals, such as purpose-built apartments” and doesn’t collect data on the secondary market, comprised of “rentals in buildings with fewer than three units.” According to Leviten-Reid et al, CBRM’s secondary market accounts for 43% of the municipality’s rentals…

CMHC believes we had a 7.2% vacancy rate for 2-bedroom apartments in CBRM as of October 2020, up from 5.1% in October 2019, and an 8.2% overall vacancy rate as of October 2020…

A serious consequence of this is that CMHC’s numbers are used to determine funding for affordable housing projects, and where the private market vacancy rate is high, affordable housing is not considered necessary.

A less serious, but not pleasant, consequence is that students seeking accommodations in CBRM are given an inaccurate notion of the local rental market and must surely be puzzled by their difficulty in finding a place in an area with an 8.2% vacancy rate.

Campbell also touches on homelessness, including among seniors, in the municipality, which brings me to an opinion piece published last month in Spring magazine by Joanne Hussey, called “The market doesn’t care about your grandma.” (Someone mentioned this piece in the Examiner comments last week, reminding me that I’d meant to point to it.)

Hussey, a former NDP staffer, who has run for the party provincially, looks at some of the alarming numbers when it comes to housing and seniors. She writes:

Across Nova Scotia, people 65 and over make up 22% of renter households and, not surprisingly, have the lowest household income of rental households compared to other age groups. More than 14,000 senior households who rent are paying more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities; 3400 are paying more than 50% of their income for housing.

The consequences of the government’s market-based approach to housing are starting to be seen on the caseloads of housing support agencies. Each year, the Point in Time (PiT) count survey is conducted across Canada to provide a one-day snapshot of the state of homelessness in communities. The most recent count for the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) found that a growing number of seniors in the city are becoming homeless for the first time in their lives. In the HRM there were 586 people without a safe, permanent address; 15% or around 87 of these people were over the age of 60. Of those who were first homeless in the past 12 months, 26% were seniors.

Living on limited retirement and pension income and government support provides no way to keep up with rents that, according to rentals.ca, are up 25% in Nova Scotia year over year.

Hussey argues that we can’t expect market solutions to solve this problem:

We are expected to believe that more homes in lakeside subdivisions and more luxury condos will let affordable apartments just trickle on down.

As market prices soared and public money flowed, many owners of actually-affordable rental units saw an opportunity: demolish low-rise affordable rental buildings, and use millions of dollars in public funds for new buildings. But the small number of “affordable” units in these buildings will rent for hundreds of dollars more than the units they replace.

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1. Fences don’t make for good neighbours

The empty lot at Milton and Parc streets in Montreal, fenced in by a developer. Image: Google Street View

A fence is a potent metaphor, is it not?

Every time I pass the erstwhile People’s Park in Halifax and look at that fence, I think about how the encampment was cleared out of there to supposedly give the park back to the community. (This, of course, makes a lot of assumptions about what constitutes “community.”) But there it sits, fenced off, doing no good to anybody.

In The Rover, freelance journalist Eve Cable writes about another fence, this one in the Milton-Parc area of Montreal. The fence was put up in 2020, by Toronto-based developer Goldmanco Inc., to keep unhoused people — many of them Inuit — from congregating in a vacant lot the company owns.

Cable writes:

The problems related to the fence started during the pandemic — before that, the parking lot was wide open, and unhoused people would hang out together throughout the day and night. They’re an intergenerational population, and having the ability to socialize in a large group was important for those living on the intersection, as streetworkers in the area have repeatedly told me.

The space was completely unused, and a stone’s throw away from the Open Door [shelter] — the parking lot was the most convenient and accessible place for the unhoused communities in Milton-Parc to reside, and it wasn’t being used by anyone else, so it made sense for people to congregate there.

Neighbours did not like this, and so, Cable writes, “when COVID was tearing through local homeless shelters and disproportionately affecting unhoused people in our city, a small group of neighbours decided to lobby for the fence.”

The development firm has never been in touch with any of the unhoused people in the area — as far as Cable knows — nor with any of the many outreach and other workers in the area. They put up the fence. And then they expanded the fence. And then people in the area started making holes in the fence. And then the developers would fix the fence. And on and on and on.

Cable lives near the fence, and watches as it gets breached and fixed, over and over again.

A couple days later, I’m a few blocks from my apartment, back in Milton-Parc. The chainlink fence has been clipped away, some of my unhoused neighbours telling me that they saw people come at night in masks and tear down some of the wire.

“I want to say thank you to all the Montrealers and the Canadians that are trying to put down this fence,” Bobby says with a smile. His girlfriend Ann interrupts: “It’ll be up again tomorrow.” Less than 24 hours later, I’m watching the same contractors whose faces I’ve come to know re-erect the fence. I ask them if they know anything about the people that used to occupy the empty lot.

“No,” they reply. “We just work here.”

Outreach workers offered to pay Goldmanco to be able to use the site for programming, but have never heard back. The lot is valued at about $4 million, but apparently the developer wants some $10 million more than that to sell.

Meanwhile, the lot sits empty, the fence pushing people onto the sidewalk.

“It’s really impractical to expect that they will take up absolutely no public space,” [Elie] Gill [of the Citizens Committee of Milton Parc] says. “I think that’s a really inhuman expectation to have. You can’t expect people to just not be homeless in public anymore. That’s preposterous to expect for one. And for two, it’s an absurd lack of compassion. If you want the homeless problem to be solved, a lot hinders on how you construe that problem.”

“Almost organically” Gill says, the empty lot became a community space. It became an area where people could sleep for more than one day at a time, and where they could go and reliably see familiar faces every day. It isn’t safe — the lot is still right next to an extremely busy road — but it was safer than other areas in Milton-Parc that edged unhoused people dangerously close to oncoming traffic. When the lot is closed, people have no choice but to sit directly on the sidewalk. Bobby explains that this is life or death for people at the intersection: “People get accidentally killed. It occurs once in a while, but once in a while is too much. Once is too much.” Gill agrees, she tells me that this is one of Montreal’s busiest intersections, and that traffic comes through dangerously fast. “It’s deeply unsafe,” she says.

Making urban spaces hostile for unhoused people — let alone anyone who wants to sit or lie down, God forbid — is no solution to multiple social crises.

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2. The “Bootleg Ratio”

Athens, Greece. Photo: Daria Nepriakhina/Unsplash

Every so often I come across a simple insight that sticks with me. Usually, these insights involve something I’ve sort of noticed, but not been able to articulate. “The Bootleg Ratio” is one of these ideas.

The phrase comes from a piece by Russell Brandom published in The Verge last month, called “How platforms turn boring.”

Have you noticed how much of your social media feeds is made up of content from other platforms? My Instagram stories are full of Twitter screenshots. My Twitter feed is full of TikTok videos. I don’t use TikTok, but Brandom says his “For you” page is full of “warmed-over” stuff from local news and Reddit threads.

Brandom argues that social media platforms develop their own aesthetic and culture, and then, at a certain point, turn boring as they get swamped with stuff created elsewhere:

After following half a dozen platforms through this shift, I’ve come to see it as a test for platform health in general. I call it the Bootleg Ratio: the delicate balance between A) content created by users specifically for the platform and B) semi-anonymous clout-chasing accounts drafting off the audience. Any platform will have both, but as B starts to overtake A, users will have less and less reason to visit and creators will have less and less reason to post. In short, it’s a sign that the interesting stuff about the platform is starting to die out.

While repackaged content from other platforms may lead to a more boring experience, as whatever was innovative and quirky about a platform gets crowded out, Brandom says there’s a reason it keeps happening: It’s good for business.

Ultimately, a social media company lives or dies by advertising, and advertisers are generally paying for the network effects. They’re sharing content from outside the platform (“ads,” we call them) and hoping the network boost helps them reach a new audience. Most of the business metrics (monthly active users, ad impressions) are actively encouraging the ViralHog effect, which is one of the reasons we see this shift so reliably. It’s good for business! But for a user with no stake in the business, the impression is a rising tide of scamminess, leeching away all the interesting things about the platform.

So far, the Examiner, social media behemoth that it is, seems to have resisted the Bootleg Ratio. Just don’t start posting your TikToks in the comments.

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Noticed

Screenshot of the crowdsourced Clean Air Map.

Last week, after I wrote about CO2 monitoring at various places around Halifax, several people urged me to upload my results to the Clean Air Map. This is a crowdsourced effort, inviting people to share the CO2 readings they’ve found. You can consult the map without signing up, but you have to create a Raven account to share your findings. (I confess that I don’t really understand what Raven is, other than some kind of feed aggregator I probably don’t need, and I didn’t feel like sitting through the explanatory video.) Nevertheless, you can ignore the feed aspects and just share your readings.

Right now, the data for Halifax is very sparse, with just a handful of readings. And the site’s search function is not great. Eg, I can see a reading for Sugah but when I search for “Sugah” no results come up. Not surprisingly, places like Toronto have a much more robust dataset.

Ideally, we would be getting accurate, up-to-date information from public health on COVID risks, but instead we are left to make our own decisions, using sparse data. So, I appreciate efforts like this, which aim to improve the quality of that data. It seems like one of those things that hasn’t yet hit a critical mass, but will be useful once it does.

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Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall and online) — agenda

Wednesday

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda

Case 24509 – Beechville Proposed Zoning Changes (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Ridgeville Middle School, Beechville) — HRM-initiated application to amend the Timberlea-Lakeside-Beechville Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use By-law to implement zoning changes for Beechville


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

Brass Masterclass with True North Brass (Tuesday, 5pm, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — featuring Karen Donnelly, Tazmyn Eddy, Julie Fauteux, David Pell, and Sasha Johnson

Wednesday

No Easy Answers (Wednesday, 7pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — panel will explore how we can use ethics to generate momentum for discussion about what matters in health care and how to achieve these important goals


In the harbour

Halifax
01:15: Onego Duero, cargo ship, sails from Pier 27 for New York
06:00: MSC Nerissa, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Sines, Portugal
07:00: Norwegian Pearl, cruise ship with up to 2,873 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Sydney, on a seven-day roundtrip cruise out of Boston
09:30: Seven Seas Navigator, cruise ship with up to 550 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Sydney, on an 11-day cruise from Montreal to New York
09:30: Adventure of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 4,058 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Portland, on a nine-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
14:00: IT Infinity, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from Rognan, Norway
16:30: Norwegian Pearl sails for Portland
16:30: Seven Seas Navigator sails for Saint John
17:00: MSC Pilar, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
20:00: Adventure of the Seas sails for Saint John
20:00: Ocean Navigator, cruise ship with up to 320 passengers, arrives at Pier 24 from Charlottetown

Cape Breton
04:00: Ocean Navigator, cruise ship, transits through the causeway en route from Charlottetown to Halifax
07:00: Norwegian Joy, cruise ship with up to 4,622 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Halifax, on a 10-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
12:00: Arctic Lift, barge, with Western Tugger, tug, sails from Mulgrave for sea
12:00: Algoma Victory, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Rio Haina, Dominican Republic
14:00: Emerald Spirit, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
17:30: Norwegian Joy sails for Charlottetown


Footnotes

If you’re interested in taking up home fermentation or learning more about it, come to my free talk at the Woodlawn library on Oct. 25. Register here.

Our kitchen is fermentation central right now: kimchi, various types of hot sauce, kombucha, preserved lemons, and some sourdough bread rising right now. Going to have to make fall sauerkraut soon.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. I am in the enviable position of owning a small home with a mortgage payment that is less than rent in HRM. When my mortgage came up for renewal, it was touch and go even though I had been paying the mortgage without fail for more than a decade. The issue was that I was retired and on a fixed income. To be able to manage, I rent a room to a friend. But I have been lucky. I am holding onto my house for dear life because if I sold it I would be another senior without the means for paying rent for the rest of my life, assuming I live for a few more decades. The housing crisis for seniors in HRM is real and the promises of a few affordable units here and there is not a solution…especially when rent is capped for a few years only. Nova Scotia has a growing proportion of seniors. Perhaps we should be working to keep people in their smaller homes and make it easier for people to devise long term co-housing arrangements. In the meantime, it would be better to work with improving the small scale housing stock we have rather than building new stock which requires higher rents.