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Volunteer-operated Winter Shelters Across Nova Scotia Close for the Season

Homelessness crisis persists

by Out of the Cold Shelter

The housing crisis in Nova Scotia has led to the creation of four volunteer-operated winter shelters across the province. After April 30th, all winter shelters will be closed for the season. There is a lack of affordable supportive housing due to government inaction, creating a situation where nearly three hundred people had to rely on volunteer-run shelters over the course of the winter.
The closure of “Inn from the Cold Bridgewater”, “Inn from the Cold Kentville”, “Out of the Cold Truro” and “Out of the Cold Halifax” will once again leave people without appropriate shelter.  The four shelters saw a total of approximately 281 different individuals over the course of the winter.
Mary Jane Jeffery of the Out of the Cold Shelter in Truro comments about the lack of resources that people face in the Truro area, “There is nowhere for a homeless person to go in Truro now that Out of the Cold is closed, no way for them to obtain many services without an address.”
The development of volunteer-operated shelters in Nova Scotia is a direct result of the lack of affordable and supportive housing options across the province. Although countless studies and reports on homelessness and the need for housing have been produced - including an official provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy - government action is lacking. Individuals and community groups have had to pool their time, energy and resources in order to fill the gap in services due to government inaction.
"Shelters are not the solution to homelessness. It is true that we have been impressed with the work of all of the volunteers and community groups that have supported us. And we are also impressed by the fact that we have been able to provide a safe and welcoming space for so many people to be able to get off the street and connect with a strong support network. Despite this achievement, this is not the solution. We do not want to run a shelter because we see it as a band-aid solution. We want to see people in their own homes. Unfortunately, enough homes that are affordable, safe, and supportive do not currently exist. We need to address the underlying issue of homelessness which is the lack of appropriate housing.” says Out of the Cold Shelter Halifax organizer Capp Larsen.
Diverse community groups and countless volunteers have come together to provide a much-needed service because of the lack of government involvement in the creation of decent, safe, accessible, affordable and supportive housing. With the development of alternative winter shelters it has become clear that there is also a need for diverse shelter options that address the diverse needs of those struggling to find and maintain housing. Supportive housing is necessary for people who have complex mental and/or physical health needs to be able to maintain their housing, which is fundamental to health and well-being.
In the following pages, each of the four volunteer-run winter shelters highlight their unique situations with regards to the lack of housing and supports in their community.
Each shelter presents the statistics and findings from operating a volunteer-run shelter for the 2009/2010 winter season.
KENTVILLE- Inn from the Cold Shelter

Numbers at a Glance:
Inn from the Cold Kentville was utilized 8 out of 10 nights with an average of 2-3 guests each of these times, totaling over 40 individuals in the 2009/2010 season. While the service has been accessed by as many as a 133 individuals in a single year, there are many more living in unsafe, unsuitable conditions.
More than a hundred volunteers from seven different churches participated in the operation of the shelter this season, which was open between November 1, 2009 and April 30, 2010. Originally the shelter ran year round with a small group of volunteers from 2004-2006. After this, John Andrew and Andy Northup of Open Arms Ministries decided to borrow the Inn from/Out of the Cold concept that has now completed its third successful season in the Annapolis Valley as a winter shelter.
Open Arms Ministries also provides a drop-in centre that opened in 2008 and a rural food delivery program for families in crisis that began in 2009.
Lack of Housing and Government Support in the Kentville area:
“It seems to me that all Nova Scotians have benefited from grassroots, volunteer operated programs. Sadly, we have seen very little interest and even less investment from government in these programs and no real effort to find solid solutions around affordable housing,” says Inn from the Cold organizer John Andrew.
Open Arms Ministry / Inn from the Cold operates a chaplaincy that aims to assist a person from the crisis that left them homeless to a place of safety, security and a healthy interdependence with their community. But they are often at a loss as to where to direct these people on the first step of their journey back to health. That first step is always finding an appropriate living space, without which, they are likely to spiral downward once again. Inn from the Cold had to knowingly direct people to places that were neither safe nor affordable too many times.
Directing his plea to government Andrew states, “Please stop researching homelessness and please help enable those of us who are already doing this work to do it better and empower our neighbors with places to live. Our group of more than a hundred volunteers from seven different churches running a program such as this should be evidence enough of both the need as well as the will of the people to see these needs met.”
BRIDGEWATER- Inn from the Cold Shelter
Numbers at a Glance:
Inn from the Cold Bridgewater (including the rural area of Mahone Bay) hosted 100 overnight stays to 15 individuals (mostly men, because there is no men’s shelter in the area) – ranging from 75 years old to just 13. Many more stayed out in the cold.
80 volunteers participated with 8 different churches for the first season of operation of the Inn from the Cold Shelter in Bridgewater. Support and food was provided by Bridgewater Baptist Ministerial, 10 businesses, Bridgewater Town Council, Community College, teachers and many individuals. The Bridgewater Police and the RCMP also provided partnership and support.
Lack of Housing and Government Support in the Bridgewater area:
“It was a great “success” if you measure that success by the fact that we entered almost unknown territory (for us) and managed to offer needed help.  But it also points to a great failure if we look at the rising need of help in a rural setting, and the lack of available housing for those already marginalized in our society.  It is a sad fact that we need to come forward as community volunteers to provide our time and resources to provide the most basic of needs – shelter and food – in one of the richest countries in the world.  It is shameful that our government will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (more likely millions of dollars) just to “redecorate” facilities for our elected employees, but leave thousands on the streets without any shelter at all,” says Inn from the Cold Bridgewater organizer Reverend Eric Campbell.
Inn from the Cold Bridgewater noted that one large gap in assistance that became obvious throughout the season is for those aged 16 – 18 years old.
Campbell states, “They are no longer children, but not yet adults.  They are in an age of ‘limbo’, not acknowledged by the ‘system’.  It would be wonderful to see more proactive help – to keep those on the ‘edge’ from falling off.  Too many live each month on inadequate Social Assistance – leaving them permanently at risk.”
TRURO - Out of the Cold Shelter

Numbers at a Glance:
The Out of the Cold Shelter in Truro welcomed eight regular guests, who returned consistently to the shelter over a period of time. Over 10 other guests visited the shelter for a night or for several nights. Two youth, between the ages of 16-18 used the shelter. Referrals were received from Police, Colchester Regional Hospital, the local bus station and other community organizations.
Out of the Cold Truro was open each night from January 1, 2010 to March 31, 2010 from 8:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. The shelter rotated between three sites: Immanuel Baptist, St. Andrew’s and First United. At Immanuel Baptist, volunteers completed 230 shifts, for a total of 1259 volunteer hours. Overall, well over 2,000 volunteer hours were given to the project.
In addition to donations of food, clothing, and bedding from the community, organizations such as United Way, local Women’s Groups, Tim Hortons and the Fair Trade Cafe contributed packaged food, fresh food and financial donations. The Best Western Glengarry provided laundry services.
Lack of Housing and Government Support in the Truro area:
In Truro, there is currently minimal subsidized housing offered through the Cobequid Housing Authority with a long wait period.  If a person is lacking an income or is not receiving social assistance, they are not eligible for a subsidized housing unit in Truro or the surrounding area.
Cobequid Housing reports that there are 42 units available with a subsidy in Colchester County. Mary Jane Jeffery, organizer with Out of the Cold Truro, says that isn’t enough. “I am concerned that this number does not accurately reflect the current need for housing options for Colchester residents.  The fact still remains that guests at the Out of the Cold Shelter Truro are not permitted to use a temporary shelter’s address for a welfare application. Our shelter occupants don't have another option and are therefore not able to apply for welfare and the subsidized housing.”
“The youth in our town are even more disadvantaged.  We saw two youths at the shelter, are aware of more and yet there is no option for them to receive funding or housing unless they are willing to prove in court that their parents are unfit or unwilling to provide for them.  Truro's homeless youth gravitate towards the parks and things like couch surfing, eventually leaving to go to the larger metropolitan areas,” says Jeffery.
The Colchester Homelessness Committee is looking at building a 21 unit co-op housing that would offer 2 bedroom, 1 bedroom, transitional and youth housing.  This is still in the feasibility study stage. Jeffery comments that this is a long process, “It will be sometime before we see an actual building and we are all at a loss as to what we will do in the interim.”
HALIFAX - Out of the Cold Shelter
Numbers at a Glance:
208 different individuals accessed the Out of the Cold Halifax shelter for a total of 2,118 overnight stays. The shelter can accommodate 15 individuals per night. The shelter was at capacity 43% of the time, with approximately 75 people who had to be turned away over the course of the winter.
29% of the total stays were by youth between the ages of 16-24. 15% of the total stays were by women. The Out of the Cold Shelter intended to accommodate transgendered people as well. One person who identified as transgendered accessed the shelter. Over the course of the winter, there were approximately 200 stays by couples who did not wish to be separated. There were also 40 nights that accommodated 1-2 dogs.
Out of the Cold Halifax operated from November 22, 2009 until April 30, 2010 at Saint Matthew’s United Church. Over 100 volunteers donated their time to be present at the shelter during the evening, overnight, and morning shifts. Additionally, over 50 more people provided meals and transportation of supplies to the shelter.
Out of the Cold Halifax was operated by a committee of 12 different professional service providers in the community. This includes representatives from Metro Non-Profit Housing Association, North End Community Health Centre, Dalhousie Legal Aid Services, Dalhousie School of Social Work, Sisters of Charity, Rockingham United Church, Adsum for Women and Children, and ARK Youth Outreach. Halifax Housing Help and Mobile Outreach Street Health (MOSH) each provided on-site services.
Lack of Housing and Government Support in the Halifax area:
The high number of people who accessed the Out of the Cold Shelter in Halifax points at a dramatic need for increased housing and shelter options in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Many of the Out of the Cold Halifax guests had complex mental and/or physical health needs, presenting additional barriers to securing and maintaining appropriate housing.
“While there were on-site services to help people find housing, it became apparent that enough safe, appropriate, and affordable housing did not exist,” states Jamie Lee Bell, Outreach Housing Support Worker with Halifax Housing Help.
Out of the Cold Halifax also saw high numbers of youth who were unable to access the one youth shelter in Halifax and were also not able to find their own housing due to barriers with the Social Assistance system. Many people who could not access other shelters used the Out of the Cold Shelter as their last line of support. The discontinuation of 24hour emergency staff at the Dept. of Community Services coupled with the fact that they refused to acknowledge the shelter as an address for people applying for assistance, mounted even higher barriers to those seeking housing.
While there is a distinct need for increased shelter options in HRM, Out of the Cold Halifax does not think that shelters are the solution to homelessness. There have been many examples of supportive housing models in Nova Scotia and across Canada that offer appropriate services and supports to people in order to maintain a safe and healthy home. The major barrier to creating safe, affordable, and supportive housing is the lack of political will and government investment into housing.


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Topics: Poverty
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