Number of people sleeping outside growing in Halifax due to lack of affordable housing

Tattered tents sitting under a concrete overpass is just a small example of the daily struggles many people face when it comes to trying to find adequate housing in the Halifax area.

A lack of affordable housing in the municipality has been an issue that’s been discussed on an ongoing basis for years and recently, housing support and outreach workers wanted to see just how many people were “roughing it,” or, trying to survive in some of the most vulnerable situations.

“We were only looking at people who sleep outside. So, not folks that sleep outside sometimes, people who are staying outside. We were able to find 35 people but there was another probably, somewhere between 10 and 15 that know by name that are outside,” Michelle Malette, a housing support worker with Adsum for Women and Children, said.

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Malette was joined by housing support and outreach workers from five organizations and they counted at least 50 people sleeping outside in downtown Halifax, Dartmouth, and Lower Sackville.

Those who participated in the survey were offered a grocery gift card and offered a glimpse into the devastating impacts a lack of affordable housing has created in the municipality.

“I think the big concern for me is that we are going to have people that are going to die outside here in the winter,” Malette said.

Malette says increased COVID-19 protocols and restrictions have been necessary to keep shelters as safe as possible but have led to the loss of about 50 shelter beds.

Those on the frontlines of homelessness support in Halifax have repeatedly stated that shelters have been over capacity for years and that a lack of affordable housing is a root issue that’s not being addressed.

“There’s no rent control. So, the place that maybe you lived in that was affordable for years, when your lease renews, your place on Pinecrest goes from being 600 to 750, with no improvements,” Malette said.

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Jeff Dauphine says he can relate to those forced to sleep outside. He’s been in and out of shelters for years and says the decline in the number of beds leaves people with nowhere to go.

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“In the last two years Metro Turning Point went from 81 beds, down to 50, and now they’re down to 30 beds,” Dauphine said.

The rental vacancy rate in Halifax has plummeted in recent years to one per cent. According to a 2019 report on the Halifax rental market, new developments continue to drive up rents, forcing older buildings to follow suit in order to compete.

Malette is urging people to bring up concerns over the state of housing with municipal election candidates.

“We need to be thinking about some radical things and not just business as usual, as it has been, and allowing developers to dictate the market and price us right out of the market,” she said.

An interview request with municipal affairs and housing was declined.

According to an email statement, the province continues to work with community partners to address housing issues.

“With the help of a provincially funded housing locator at the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, about 100 families have been housed since June 1.  This does not include those housed by other agencies,” Krista Higdon, a communications representative from the department, wrote in a statement.

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