Homelessness has become a big enough concern in Lower Sackville that Ross Bartlett organized a community meeting so the public could gather, learn and listen.
Bartlett is the minister at Knox United Church and the secretary for the Sackville Rotary Club. He noticed that the number of people who express the need for help hasn’t gotten any lower. This motivated him to have a community meeting at the church so people could learn more about resources available to help those struggling with homelessness and hunger.
“Several times a month, we see people who are either newly homeless or quite insecure,” he said in an interview before the meeting. “They’re couch surfing or they’re staying with relatives or friends, or multiple families are living in a one-bedroom place just to pay rent.”
Around 80 people from Lower Sackville and surrounding areas attended the meeting on Tuesday. Representatives from Bedford/Sackville Community Health Team, Halifax Public Libraries and Beacon House spoke about their current efforts and programs for working with people in need. All three parties also shared experiences of helping people with low or no income and people who have limited options for shelter.
Bartlett said they’re “routinely” working with people who simply don’t have enough money.
“Once they’ve paid the rent, they can’t make it through the month or are having to choose between filling prescriptions and the food budget,” he said.
The current president of the Sackville Rotary Club, Linda Meldrum, who also helped organize the meeting, wanted to let people know about resources that are available.
“People can be well intended and think like ‘oh we can put something new together,'” said Meldrum. “But if we listened just a little bit longer, we might find out some really established things in the community that are there already.”
None of the speakers knew how many people live in poverty or are homeless in the community. However, Rod Rowlands from Beacon House, a food bank which also operates a used clothing store, said last fiscal year they had 25,000 people use their services and about 30 per cent were children.
June Latham-MacKinnon said in an interview after the meeting that she works at a retail shop in the community. She said she has seen an increase in small thefts at her workplace, which she didn’t want to identify. She said once someone poured shampoo into a Ziploc bag because they were desperate for hygiene supplies.
Latham-MacKinnon said that there needs to be a shelter for people in the community, even if it’s only an emergency shelter. After the meeting, she spoke with some other attendees about the possibility of getting a shelter.
During the Q&A she asked the speakers what resources they need to continue to provide services or expand them, whether money, space or volunteers.
She thought the resource the organizations would have picked was money, so they could continue to fund their programs in the future, but no one could give her a concrete answer.
“We obviously care,” said Latham-MacKinnon after the event. “We showed up, but I think they need to be able to tell us what they need. When I asked if I could give them unlimited resources what would they want, they couldn’t really decipher what they would want.”
Jacklynn Humphrey and Kim Rose from the Bedford/Sackville Community Health Team said in their presentation that when someone needs shelter, they often send them to Halifax. The problem, they said, is that many people have support at home, but not in Halifax.
Bartlett said it would be a successful night if people went home thinking and knowing more about these issues and what help exists for those who need it.