A winter shelter in Halifax is expanding its services and adding more beds this year as a growing homeless population braces for winter.
Out of the Cold will have 25 beds this year, which is twice as many as it traditionally offers. The shelter is located in a property at 1221 Barrington St., and is expected to open this Saturday and run until April 30.
The facility, which is open to everyone, operates annually during the cold months of the year but lost its longtime home in 2018. It operated temporarily out of the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre last winter.
The new location is one of several changes for Out of the Cold. The biggest is the shelter will no longer be a nightly drop-in centre that pushes people out the door in the morning. This year it’s expanding to a 24-7 service with staff in-house.
“There’s so much unnecessary drama and hardship caused when you have to ask a bunch of people to leave every morning to go out into the cold,” said Eric Jonsson, chair of the board of Out of the Cold.
The new space will allow for social distancing while offering more privacy to individuals, Jonsson said. In the past, the shelter was congruent living in a gym or a church basement. “It’s not just 20 people in one big open area, so it’s a lot more dignified,” he said.
The Barrington Street location is also equipped with a kitchen, so Jonsson says staff will be able to cook quality meals for visitors.
More homeless, fewer beds
Shelter Nova Scotia is turning people away every day because it cannot meet the demand for beds. As of Dec. 1, 492 people are experiencing homelessness in the Halifax region, according to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia.
That’s more than double the homeless population that was reported in 2018.
Many shelters have reduced capacity as a way to follow social-distancing rules. Shelter Nova Scotia’s men’s emergency shelter has 20 fewer beds than last year. Its women’s shelter is down to 17 beds from 20.
“We can’t go through the winter without Out of the Cold opening,” Shelter Nova Scotia spokesperson Jayme Lynn Butt said in an interview before Out of the Cold announced its new location.
On Monday, Butt wrote in an email to The Signal they’re “relieved” the winter shelter found a home.
Before the announcement, Michelle Mallette, Out of the Cold executive director, estimated COVID-19 restrictions resulted in the loss of roughly 50 shelter beds in Halifax. Out of the Cold will fill half that deficit, she told The Signal.
The province announced $1.7 million last month to replace 30 shelter beds removed from the system due to COVID-19 health protocols.
No further details have been shared about where or when the beds will be set up. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Chuck Porter declined a request to comment last week. A statement from his office on Nov. 30 said, “We are working with our partners on the details. More information will be shared in the coming days.”
Butt says they haven’t been in touch with the province about the funding.
“We still don’t know anything about the $1.7 million,” she said in her email.