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Halifax council approves $3.2 million for emergency housing

Modular units announced in September were in state of disrepair

4 min read
caption A woman walks past a tent encampment in Victoria Park on Nov. 8, one of several tent communities in HRM.
Hillary MacInnis

Halifax regional council approved millions in funding this week for modular housing units after a previous deal fell through when the units turned out to be unsuitable for habitation.

In August, councillors authorized spending up to $500,000 to address the need for emergency supportive housing and emergency shelter accommodations for unhoused people in the municipality.

In a September briefing, Erica Fleck, assistant chief of emergency management, announced that HRM had “purchased 24 modular units that can provide accommodations for up to 73 individuals.”

Before Tuesday’s meeting, the Coast reported that there were 73 modular housing units fitting the description of those HRM planned to buy sitting in a lot outside Halifax. The article described the state of the units: some were “emitting the pungent smell of black mould” and had “visible dark stains on floors, ceilings, and walls.”

A staff report released during Tuesday’s council meeting revealed that “following an inspection, the purchase was rejected in accordance with the terms of the purchase order, after it was determined that none of the units were deemed suitable for the municipality’s use.”

That sets the project back somewhere between two and four weeks.

“Given the scope of what we’re trying to do on a project that is something unlike anything we’ve ever done before, that’s entirely outside of where we’ve ever been, and we have no staff and experience with it, I actually think it’s gone remarkably smoothly,” Coun. Waye Mason said.

Council approved $3.2 million in funding for the new temporary shelter, but the total number of units is now fewer than previously planned.

HRM plans to house 24 residents at a site in downtown Dartmouth and 36 in the Halifax site, where the exact location is yet to be determined.

caption A map showing the proposed location of the modular units in Dartmouth, released in a staff report on Nov. 9.

In a statement from HRM spokesperson Brynn Budden, the municipality said it expects the new units to be ready by the end of the month. That date is pending the arrival of the units.

Halifax Mutual Aid, an anonymous volunteer group that has been building shelters across HRM, has what it called a “stable community of unhoused people” on Geary Street in Dartmouth, next to the proposed new location of the units on Alderney Drive.

“I’ve had concerns expressed to me around fighting and drug use and lack of sanitation, people using the bathroom out in the open. I’ve had women in the community express that they don’t feel safe walking past there anymore,” Dartmouth Centre Coun. Sam Austin said during the council meeting.

“This could actually be a win-win because we’re taking a site that currently has no support and supportive services at it. We’re going to start to provide that because these people are part of our community. They’re part of downtown Dartmouth, and we need to be providing for them.”

Some of Austin’s colleagues were worried about those services.

“I guess my big question is, do we have a detailed list of who is going to do what once these units arrive? Because everyone keeps saying ‘wraparound services, wraparound services,’ and it’s a lovely little catchphrase, but what exactly are we going to be doing?” Coun. Lisa Blackburn said.

After the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, the province announced that it would be stepping in to provide those support services by allocating an additional $2.7 million to the Out of the Cold Community Association. That organization is currently operating the municipality’s temporary shelter at the Gray Arena.

As of Tuesday, there are 409 people in HRM who are experiencing homelessness, according to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia.

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