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Life threatening decision to close Halifax shelter gets direct action response

by Asaf Rashid

On Monday November 3rd, Halifax Coalition Against Poverty (HCAP) members and supporters occupied the Halifax office of Nova Scotia Department of Community Services (DCS) for deciding not to fund Pendleton Place, a “harm reduction” shelter located in the basement of St. Patrick’s Church in Halifax. The closure was a move that one local housing activist, Paul O'Hara, described as a “life and death” decision gone the wrong way, and many more have made clear there will be a high risk of serious injury or death on the streets of Halifax this winter as a consequence.

“As long as DCS will commit poor people in our community to death, HCAP will refuse to allow business as usual within the Department.", stated HCAP as the action was underway

During the occupation, HCAP members and supporters numbered over a dozen. At 10 am they entered the DCS offices, occupying the space and stating – with megaphones blaring – their opposition to the closure of the shelter and demands for affordable housing. The occupation lasted approximately an hour. One DCS employee who was particularly sought after was an upper level bureaucrat, Lynn Brogan, regarded as having been in the position to have prevented the closure of Pendleton Place.

At one point, a Department employee told the group that Lynn Brogan was not in the office. Later, they were told that she was in fact in the office and would come out to speak with the group, but by then the police had arrived and gave a ten-minute warning for the group to leave. Whether or not Lynn Brogan ever intended on coming out of hiding in her office is unknown, but the police time limit expired before anyone saw her and the group was made to leave the building under the threat of arrest and likely some police violence. The door leading outside was locked behind the group, then guarded by the police, limiting access or approachability to anyone else who may have needed the public services inside. There were no arrests in the end.

Background

DCS announced on October 21, 2008, that it would not be reopening Pendleton Place. For the past three winters, DCS has funded the shelter. It was initially opened in the winter of 2004/05, when anti-poverty groups created an uproar after Gordie Connors, a Korean War veteran, died on the streets of Halifax.

The decision to permanently close Pendleton Place, made just days before the shelter was scheduled to open for the cold season, was tied to the Department’s desire to focus provincial funds on Metro Turning Point and Berry House, two other homeless shelters in Halifax. The decision results in 16 new beds and extended hours at these shelters, but it is a deceptive move by the government. Although these shelters gained some services, there is a huge loss overall to the shelter system in Halifax. Just looking at the bed numbers, the loss is obvious. When it was in operation, Pendleton Place provided between 20 to 40 beds for homeless people.

“Whichever way you look at it, the decision not to reopen Pendleton Place is a cost cutting move by the provincial government which will take $150 000 out of the shelter system in Halifax.”, stated a pre-action notice by HCAP.

Losing Pendleton Place will produce a gap in the shelter system, particularly for individuals who are currently barred by court order from Barry House and Turning Point, homeless youth and those deemed to have addictions and behavioural problems.

Pendleton Place had a harm-reduction philosophy and a mandate as a “shelter of last resort”. As well, Metro Turning Point, Barry House and another shelter, Adsum House, all provide services that are genders specific. The only requirements to access Pendleton Place was for people to identify themselves as homeless and to be unable to access other shelters in the Halifax Regional Municipality. This openness was one of the reasons why many homeless would choose either Pendleton place or sleeping outside, according to Wayne McNaughton, long-time advocate for the homeless in Halifax. Some are intimidated just by the rigorous intake process of the other shelters.

“We recognize...both the need for (the shelter) and (that) the funds exist to create a diverse array of shelters, for men, for women, for families, for individuals who are using and for individual who are not; the government is simply lacking the will and common decency,” stated an HCAP member after the action.

Post-action update

Several HCAP members have been harassed by the police since the action, at least a couple receiving “Protection of Property” notices, barring them from being allowed on the property of the DCS office.

HCAP was one amongst several anti-homeless and anti-poverty groups, as well as individual advocates, devastated by the decision to close Pendleton. Of course, the most devastated are the users of Pendleton place, who are currently in dire straits as the days get shorter and the weather bites harder.

The action on November 3rd was only one step along the way in what can be expected to be a determined struggle to re-open the kind of shelter that Pendleton place was. But as HCAP pointed out in a leaflet handed out during the action, the struggle to re-open a shelter of last resort is part of a much larger struggle.

“We’re also demanding that everyone should have the right to housing. More shelters, more subsidized housing, and higher income assistance rates can alleviate suffering in the here and now but HCAP struggles for something greater: a world where peoples' right to housing is guaranteed and where shelter is not a commodity to be bought and sold for profit.”

More info about HCAP calls for action on this issue:
www.hfxcap.ca/


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Comments

Thanks for covering this!

Thank you so much for covering this! I really feel that there are too many events like this that are flying under the public radar.

A couple comments and questions about things I would love to know to get a broader perspective:

- What did the representatives and operators of Pendleton Place have to say about the closure?
- Were there any statements or info from the police and/or DCS to balance out the HCAP perspectives presented?
- I'd love to know more about the reasons for the decision to stop funding. Were there budget cuts? Where did the money go instead (because clearly it didn't ALL get redirected to shelters) ?
- Was there actually a threat made of police violence? In what way? What did the HRP force have to say about that? Were members of HCAP perceived as being threatening?
- What kind of harassment was experienced by HCAP members following the action? By "harassment", I'm understanding persistent, repeated hostile actions.
- Did anyone try to contact Lynn Brogan for comment? (by telephone, email, etc?) I'd love to know what she had to say about the closures as well as about the protest.

I know this was a while ago, but thank you so much again for writing the article and reporting on this situation! I'll definitely be checking the Dominion out more often for my daily source of news. As members of the Halifax community, we all need to be more aware of what's going on in our own backyards!

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