‘It’s brutal’: Halifax housing program can’t meet demand as more face homelessness

Click to play video: 'Halifax shelter says housing crisis getting worse'
Halifax shelter says housing crisis getting worse
A Halifax non-profit offering emergency shelter says the housing crisis is getting worse. As Skye Bryden-Blom reports, Adsum for Women and Children is receiving calls daily from families struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

It’s the end of the month, and for some families in Halifax, that could also mean the end of their housing as leases expire and affordable options remain scarce.

“We know that housing is at a premium in the city, and that we’re struggling to keep people housed,” said Sarah Carrier, executive assistant with Adsum for Women & Children.

Carrier works in Adsum’s shelter diversion program, which aims to divert families out of shelters by placing them in hotel rooms and Airbnbs across Halifax.

They have about 100 rooms throughout the city, currently housing around 200 adults and children – and they’re all full.

The end of the month tends to be a particularly busy time for the program, as that’s when fixed-term leases tend to expire, leaving people on the brink of homelessness in a city with a severe lack of affordable housing and a one-per-cent vacancy rate.

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“We see a lot of fixed-term leases in the city, so definitely, things ramp up at the end of the month, with people having fixed-term leases ending, evictions pending,” Carrier explained.

But February was especially “intense.” On Monday alone, Adsum took about 20 calls from people who were losing their homes at the end of the month, which included seven families with a total of 17 children.

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They had one room left Monday and were able to house a mother and three children, but that left everyone else with no place to go.

“That was a win, but I also had to say no to six other families, and it’s brutal,” Carrier said.

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“It’s brutal to have to tell a mom who’s struggling that I don’t have a place in the program for her and her children. It’s devastating.”

A United Way report from last month indicates that Nova Scotia has the highest provincial poverty rate in the country, and more than one in 10 people in Halifax are living in poverty.

Another recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that more than one in five children in Nova Scotia were living in poverty in 2021.

While the province has said it is focusing on targeted supports to help those in most dire need, critics have said a more holistic approach is needed to lift Nova Scotians out of poverty.

Carrier is calling for more “truly affordable” housing — housing that costs 30 per cent or less of someone’s income — is “the only option” to prevent more people from ending up on the street.

“We see buildings going up all over the city, but they’re not truly affordable,” she said. “And this problem is going to continue to grow until we rectify that.”

The province recently announced that it will build 25 new public housing units across eight communities by the end of March. The units are in addition to the 222 public housing units that were announced in September 2023, bringing the total to 247.

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According to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, there at least 1,142 actively homeless people in the Halifax region as of Feb. 20.

— with files from Skye Bryden-Blom

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