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Shining Lights Choir and friends go fishing

Metro Non-Profit Housing support centre takes a day trip to the lake

by Rana Encol

Dwayne Smith casts a line into the water.
Dwayne Smith casts a line into the water.
“Happiness is getting one inside you,” says Phil Silver as he devours a chocolate cupcake, enjoying a day trip to Jerry Lawrence provincial park.
“Happiness is getting one inside you,” says Phil Silver as he devours a chocolate cupcake, enjoying a day trip to Jerry Lawrence provincial park.
Phil Silver and Susan Lucas are good friends. (Photos: Rana Encol)
Phil Silver and Susan Lucas are good friends. (Photos: Rana Encol)

Sometimes you just need to get out of town.

Adam Craft is the housing support coordinator at Metro Non-Profit Housing and works at the “coffee shop,” as it's affectionately known in the neighbourhood – where about 30 people gathered Thursday morning to go fishing.

The coffee shop provides people on low-income with a space to socialize by offering coffee, donuts, and fresh fruit from the local food bank from 8am to noon each day. It also helps administer medication and offers resources for counselling and support for the homeless and people in crisis.

Craft’s recent 50/50 fundraiser at Gus' Pub helped purchase five fishing licenses for a trip to Jerry Lawrence Provincial Park near Peggy’s Cove, organized for those who are a part of the Shining Lights Choir, which is run through the centre. 

Shining Lights Choir was founded in 1997 after members heard about a homeless choir in Montreal, and now includes more than 30 people who perform at poverty rallies and special events. 

Guylaine, 50, moved from Montreal to Halifax when she was 21 years old, and has lived at Ahern Manor across the street from the coffee shop for the past seven years. 

“I caught two fish in 1979,” she spiritedly recalls before strolling out to the boardwalk to cast out her fishing line. 

She catches some seaweed and a big smile spreads across her face.

Susan Lucas, also in her 50s, participates in a weekly cooking class, and taught Guylaine, who is blind, how to safely use a stove and oven.

Lucas suffers from intense trauma she experienced in social services' institutions throughout her teens. Her forehead is scarred from when she says she stood up to abuse in one of the homes. She tells a harrowing story of how she lost and eventually found the rest of her family.

She fled to the woods and then lived on the streets, but landed an apartment near Gottingen thanks to help from Metro Non-Profit.

She takes tranquilizers to help her nod off at night, but sometimes she has to rock herself to sleep, she says. 

“Someday I hope (the counsellors) will figure out what I need.”

Lucas has sang gospel and spirituals with the Shining Lights Choir for ten years. Her favourite tune is “Oh, Freedom.” 

She enjoys sitting on the dock, and says leaving town helps her clear her mind.

No one who needs help is ever turned away from the coffee shop, says Craft, who works there with one other staff member, Hannah Cavicchi. Craft has recently turned his focus to fundraising to help pay for little things, such as bus passes (the centre only receives $200 for bus tickets per month) and Coffeemate creamer (“We go through two cases a week,” he says).

Metro Non-Profit Executive Director Carol Charlebois received an honorary doctorate from University of King's College in May for her lifetime of work in the community.

She says the centre, which oversees several tenants' units in the north end, receives little government assistance and relies on donations from United Way, the Rotary Club, and faith-based organizations. The main source of revenue is through rent, but this is not enough to cover the operating costs since the income assistance allowance for housing has stayed at $535 since 1996.

“Aside from new projects (through Adsum House and Shelter Nova Scotia), things are getting worse,” she says. 

Charlebois says the organization has been doing Housing First since 1990 — a method advocated for in the United States to help the homeless find housing, first. It works best when a team of social workers help people settle into their homes and address other needs, but Charlebois is worried because “we don't have the resources to do that.”

The strength of Metro Non-Profit lies in their outstanding capacity to create community – which is evident in the tight camaraderie amongst the day trippers.

But funding for such activities is tight. Charlebois expressed disappointment that provincial and federal governments don't seem to recognize this capacity when it comes to allocating funding dollars.

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