Unspent $116M Sparks Demand for Homeless Crisis Solution Amid Rising Rents


Amid concurrent discussions in Halifax council about expanding tent sites on the Halifax Commons in response to the burgeoning homeless population, news emerged that the Progressive Conservative government of Nova Scotia had unspent capital to the tune of $116 million that was not accounted for in the last fiscal forecast. This prompted agencies working with the homeless to urge the provincial PC government to allocate part of this discovered surplus towards addressing the housing crisis.

Halifax’s Souls Harbour mission, a refuge for the homeless, has seen a rapid increase in the number of homeless people seeking their services, according to Greg Martell, a drop-in host at the mission. More and more people, he observes, are resorting to tent dwellings as a last-ditch solution to their housing predicament.

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Martell highlights the pressing need for affordable housing, contrasting it with the ineffectiveness of the provisional tent solution. This sentiment seems to be universally accepted as the current state of using tents appears to be a stopgap fix rather than a sustainable answer to the issue of homelessness.

The homeless population in Halifax is spiralling, with data from Halifax Regional Municipality indicating that the city may need over 20 new encampment sites to cater to the current demand. Souls Harbour Mission’s CEO, Michelle Porter, warns that this approach is not tenable or effective in the long run. She portrays the tent site as a bleak, hopeless environment failing to meet essential safety standards or provide a decent roof for its inhabitants.

On the same day the Halifax city council was deliberating on the homeless strategy, news of the surprising surplus in the provincial PC government’s budget came out. The announcement sparked calls from individuals working with the homeless, including Jeff Karabanow, a Social Work professor at Dalhousie, asking that these funds be utilized to tackle the rampant homelessness issues he identifies as a crisis.

The existing budget allocated by Halifax for tackling homelessness in the current year tallies to $1.6 million. However, projections suggest the city is expected to overshoot this figure. To put it into perspective, servicing an encampment site costs around $30,000 annually.

Experts like Karabanow argue that traditional housing solutions are inadequate and more innovative, respectful alternatives are required. He suggests contemplating more stable solutions such as pre-fabricated shelter spaces and tiny homes. Porter pleads for collective action led by all tiers of government to tackle what she refers to as a “pandemic of homelessness”.

In an unexpected twist, as of January 1, property managers will be permitted to raise rents by 5 percent due to the provincial rent cap regulation. This development adds another layer to the housing crisis, fuelling fear amongst advocates that homeless numbers may escalate further.