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Homelessness is here to stay

Report on Housing and Homelessness in HRM paints grim picture

by Robert Devet

Panel at the launch of the report on homelessness in HRM. Numbers don't suggest that things are geting better at all. Claudia Jahn (AHANS), Dan Troke (Housing NS), Sue LaPierre (United Way Halifax), Jim Graham (AHANS).  Photo Robert Devet
Panel at the launch of the report on homelessness in HRM. Numbers don't suggest that things are geting better at all. Claudia Jahn (AHANS), Dan Troke (Housing NS), Sue LaPierre (United Way Halifax), Jim Graham (AHANS). Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK, HALIFAX - Things are becoming more and more difficult if you're renting an apartment and you don't have a lot of money. That is the conclusion of the 2013 Report on Housing and Homelessness in HRM.

The report was compiled by Affordable Housing Nova Scotia (AHANS).

The report shows that income levels of people on income assistance, people who live with disabilities, and the underemployed, are not keeping up with rent and cost of living increases.

For Claudia Jahn, program facilitator at AHANS, the solution is not very complicated. "Either we increase the housing stock, the number of affordable housing units, or we increase income levels," Jahn said at the launch of the report.

But neither is happening.

For instance, income assistance for a single person in 2012 was $538 monthly. That amount covers food, housing, everything. Since 2008 Community Services has increased it by $30. Average rent for a bachelor apartment in HRM is now $690, an increase of $90 since 2008.

And the number of affordable housing units in HRM remains stagnant, while almost 1300 families are on waiting lists for public housing.

According to the report more and more people find themselves in that precarious situation. And until the root causes of poverty are addressed homelessness is here to stay.

The report suggests that more affordable housing and better management of the existing affordable housing units must be a major component of any solution.

Jahn believes that ending chronic homelessness is a real possibility. Relatively new approaches such as Housing First that focus on quickly placing homeless people in apartments look very promising, Jahn said.

However, only 10% of the 1900 or so people who stayed in HRM homeless shelters last year would be considered chronically homeless.

In contrast, most homeless individuals come from housing situations that are so precarious that acute homelessness is always a very real possibility. It's just a matter of one missed paycheque, one financial emergency, for life on the street to become a reality.

That type of homelessness is very difficult to solve.

Some people in the audience questioned aspects of the solutions suggested by AHANS.

Housing First solutions may not work for women and children who survived violence, First Nations people, and even for rural Nova Scotians.

This is because Housing First approaches frequently focus on finding homeless people regular apartments independent from support organizations. This is problematic for all of these groups, either for reasons of safety or because these apartments simply don't exist, audience members argued.

Other attendants wondered why AHANS was not looking at rent control as a mechanism to deal with the deplorable state of many metro apartments and to curb quickly rising rents.

HRM mayor Mike Savage and Joanne Bernard, former director of Alice Housing, and newly minted minister for Community Services were also at the report launch.

Bernard reiterated her commitment to the Nova Scotia Housing Strategy initiated by her NDP predecessor Denise Peterson-Rafuse. At the time reaction to the strategy was mixed.

"We need to fill the the housing strategy with details and clear goals," said Bernard.

AHANS itself briefly became the focus of attention.

Previously a member-based organization that had advocay and networking in its mandate, AHANS restructured and the organization now no longer has members.

AHANS new focus is on supporting a newly formed housing partnership in HRM and managing federal homelessness dollars. AHANS also will no longer organize a popular annual Housing and Homelessness Conference.

Problem is, AHANS never really told anybody about the changes.

"I only found out when I asked AHANS why as a member I never hear anything," said Stella Lord, poverty activist and social policy analyst.

How to fill the advocacy and networking void created by AHANS sudden withdrawal was briefly discussed after the press conference concluded, but next steps remain unclear.

Who will organize next year's annual housing conference also is not known.

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

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Just thought you should know

Just thought you should know that only individuals that qualify for Disability Funding receive the $525/month. This has to be approved and documented by a doctor or health care professional. "Proof of disability" is required for this funding.

Regular Income Assistance is only $375 or so per month for individuals deemed "capable to work". People on Income Assistance more often than not have to dip into their grocery and transportation amounts to cover rent and utilities.

As you can imagine, it is pretty near impossible to find a safe place to rent for these income assistance amounts.


See more here: http://novascotia.ca/coms/employment/income_assistance/BasicAssistance.html


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