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A housing-first model will help end homelessness in Nova Scotia

Offering a place to live to anyone who needs it is a cheap and effective alternative to social support networks.



In 2015, the city of Medicine Hat, Alberta took a compassionate and unprejudiced approach to ending homelessness by using a housing-first model.

Homes are offered to anyone who needs them. Ten days are now the most an individual or family stays in a Medicine Hat shelter. With a roof over their head, people are able to address other challenges; reducing the financial burdens in the health, justice and child welfare systems.

Housing someone in Medicine Hat costs about $20,000 a year. Leaving them on the street works out to around $100,000.

It’s high past time Nova Scotia look into similar programs to fill the gaps in this province’s spotty homeless support network.

Recently, it was found that Cape Breton has more homeless women than men. However, there is no shelter services for women on the island. Ally Centre of Cape Breton provides services during the day but at night the doors close. According to Christine Porter, who runs the centre, many women end up trading favours for a place to stay.

Then there was Lucy MacDonald, who sought help from a women’s shelter for herself and her daughter. Due to MacDonald working full-time, she was declined shelter but her daughter was accepted. Arbitrary red tape separated a mother and daughter during a very traumatic time in their lives.

We have a homelessness epidemic in Nova Scotia and the disingenuous approach is not working—it’s perpetuating it. We have shelters and outreach programs that all do great work, but it is not enough and we need to rethink how we invest in combatting this growing epidemic.

Leaving people in shelters and on the streets to work through the issues that caused them to become homeless is cruel, and we should be ashamed that we are willing to burden our health, justice and social service sectors financially instead of investing directly in the affected.

How can anyone overcome addiction or become mentally healthy living in shelters or sleeping rough? We house people together in shelters who are facing similar issues and expect miracles of them.

The average cost per person to stay in a shelter is $100 per day to the taxpayer. At $3,000 a month, that’s almost four times what a disabled ESIA recipient receives for shelter and personal allowance.

We have been using the same unviable approach for decades to ending homelessness and expecting different results. Our vulnerable need investment, not Band-Aids.

Medicine Hat mayor Ted Clugston had little faith in the housing-first initiative of his city at its outset, but within a year the cost savings motivated him to advocate other governments about using similar community models.

Utah has taken the same approach and reduced its chronic homelessness by 91 percent.

We can end homelessness, but we have to be bold and provide housing along with the means for basic needs to the homeless, without judgment.

It’s time to be compassionate and logical. We spend far too much on shelters and outreach programs. It’s time to rethink how we distribute the funds available to help some of our most vulnerable residents.

Homelessness can end with a community approach that is humane and that addresses the issues by actually investing in those impacted, instead of cumbersome programs with high costs that only patch over the problem.


Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.


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