Housing

Street navigators proposed to help Sackville’s hidden homeless

Halifax regional council will consider $180K project to tackle homelessness in Sackville

Halifax regional council is being asked to consider supporting a project to help Sackville residents find affordable housing.

Steve Craig, regional councillor for Lower Sackville, is behind a motion to fund hands-on street navigators to act as resources to those in need. He said the issue isn’t a lack of shelters, it’s the lack of available housing information.

“There is a gap between those homeless and those in positions to possibly help,” Craig wrote in his motion.

According to 2016 census data included with the motion, over 10 per cent of Sackville residents don’t have adequate housing. On Tuesday, Craig will ask for $180,000 in funding to expand the Navigator Street Outreach Program to Sackville for a trial period of two years.

Craig said the Halifax Regional Municipality’s Affordable Housing Work Plan set forth in July can help create housing opportunities, but those who need these opportunities don’t know how to find them.

Poverty and homelessness were the main topics of discussion at a community meeting at the Knox United Church in February. Representatives from the Bedford/Sackville Community Health Team, Halifax Public Libraries and Beacon House met to discuss the lack of shelters in the area.

In an interview Friday, Craig said many of these people need permanent housing and not a shelter. He believes the homelessness issue in Sackville is often misunderstood because not enough data has been collected.

His goal with the motion is to raise awareness of Sackville’s homelessness problem, and he intends the money to go towards identifying people who are near homelessness and to finding the underlying causes.

The Navigator Street Outreach Program is one way to do that, he said.

Street navigators

The program has been active in downtown Halifax since 2008. Its goals are to identify people in vulnerable situations and connect them with the help they need.

NSOP’s most recent annual report found three per cent of people using their services claim to live in Sackville, but they don’t have the resources to expand.

“It’s just me,” said Eric Jonsson, founder of NSOP. “I am a program of one.”

With a proposed budget of $90,000 a year, the program would be expanded into Sackville on a full-time basis for the proposed two years.

A lot of the work is helping people move, setting up meetings with landlords and securing permanent placement in homes, said Jonsson.

“But it’s also about making yourself available to people in the street who know you as a resource,” he said. “I do what I can, but there should be more.”

Support from the community

Asa Kachen, CEO and chief librarian of Halifax Public Libraries, said in a letter included with the motion that she acknowledges how complex poverty is in Sackville. She welcomes the idea of a full-time street navigator and suggested the Sackville library as a base.

“Library staff have become increasingly aware of the needs and challenges that people without stable housing face on a daily basis,” wrote Kachen. “(They) helped link vulnerable community members with free clothing resources, provided them with access to transportation and have assisted in responding to emergency food requests.”

The motion was also supported by a letter from Claudia Jahn, program director with the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia. She emphasized homelessness and housing insecurity are very different in Sackville compared to Halifax.

Since there are no emergency shelters or housing options, “there are individuals who are absolutely homeless, sleeping rough in wooded areas, (abandoned) buildings and/or couch surfing,” she wrote.

She added a street navigator program will not only provide needed services, but will help collect more data on the issue.