With frigid temperatures coming, Halifax groups work to support unhoused people

With temperatures expected to drop deep into the negatives Friday night, community organizations and front-line workers in Halifax are busy trying to keep the city’s most vulnerable residents as safe as possible during the particularly frigid weekend.

Environment Canada forecasts a bitter low of -24 C Friday night, with temperatures hovering around -16 C Saturday. It’s bound to feel even colder with the wind chill, and service providers are worried for the victims of the ongoing housing crisis.

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Nathan Doucet, an outreach worker with Out of the Cold Community Association, said it’s “a bit of a scramble” trying to help the city’s unhoused residents prepare for the freezing temperatures.

“Every day, we’re getting calls from people who are new to the streets, recently evicted from their apartments,” he said.

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“Those are some of the most terrifying calls, because when we’re going into a weekend where we’re going to see -25 or more temperatures, the fear is that people don’t actually know what it might take to stay warm.

“We’re worried about frostbite. We’re worried about death. There’s a person who died in a parking garage not that long ago … we don’t want to see any of that.”

Out of the Cold outreach worker Nathan Doucet says he and his coworkers are in ‘high gear’ getting survival supplies for unhoused people.

Skye Bryden-Blom/Global News

Doucet said he and his coworkers are in “high gear,” trying to distribute survival supplies – tents, sleeping bags, blankets, heating pads, mattresses, and pallets to raise people a few inches off the frozen ground.

“I can’t even tell you how many tents I’ve handed out in the last two months,” Doucet said, estimating that between him and his partner, it was “easily” more than 100.

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Out of the Cold is looking for donations as demand continues to soar.

Though there are plans this weekend to increase capacity and hours at some shelters, Doucet stressed that homelessness is not just a “winter problem” and what’s needed is more permanent housing that people can actually afford.

He called for a more robust housing plan from the province, specifically with much more rent-geared-to-income housing.

“The only guarantee of survival in this case is going to be legitimate, adequate, reasonable housing,” he said.

“One or two nights out of the cold in brutal winter temperatures is something that is very much needed in the immediate, but the long-game housing plan needs to be presented if we don’t want to see this happen year after year after year.”

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At Adsum for Women and Children, shelter diversion support manager Ainslee Umlah said staff are working to make sure people have a safe, warm place to go.

“With the freezing weather upon the horizon, we’re finding people who don’t have a place to go put themselves in dangerous situations or are left to be in the elements, tenting outside,” she said.

“And it’s really sad that we live in a world where people can’t access shelter, because the shelters are full, or don’t have the family or community support to rely on.”

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Adsum is opening a “mini warming centre” at 2380 Gottingen St. from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Thursday to Saturday.

“It will be a space for people who don’t have anywhere else to go to come in, get some tea, some snacks, be able to dry their clothes, warm up, take a shower, and figure out a plan to weather the storm, weather the cold weather,” Umlah said.

“There will be staff there to help people who need assistance finding a warm, safe shelter.”

Adsum for Women and Children is opening a ‘mini warming centre’ on Gottingen Street this weekend.

Skye Bryden-Blom/Global News

Staff will make calls to different shelters to see if there’s space to accommodate people. They will also be giving out the number for the shelter diversion support line, which is an emergency line to book people into hotels if needed.

The line can be reached at 902-431-7848.

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“We hope there won’t be too much demand,” said Umlah, “but we also know there are more than 700 people in this city experiencing homelessness, and a lot more who are couch surfing, staying with family, and don’t have too many options where they can go.”

Adsum shelter diversion support manager Ainslee Umlah says staff are working to make sure people have a safe, warm place to go.

Skye Bryden-Blom/Global News

In an interview, Meredith Cowan, executive homelessness lead with Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services, said when extreme weather is expected, the department rounds up its partners to execute its emergency weather plan.

The plan includes opening warming centres and increasing hours and capacity at shelters.

“Our concern at this point would be making sure those folks can get in to those added supports over the weekend,” she said.

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In Halifax, the following services will be available this weekend for those experiencing homelessness:

  • 902 Man Up is adding bed capacity to its overnight men’s shelter at Christ Church at 61 Dundas St. in Dartmouth, as well as its shelter at 2029 North Park St. in Halifax. Christ Church is open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. and the North Park Street shelter will be open for extended hours from 5 p.m. Friday until 9 a.m. Sunday.
  • 902 Man Up is also opening and staffing a warming centre at St. Matthew’s Church on Barrington Street from 5 p.m. Friday until 9 a.m. Sunday.
  • Beacon House is extending its shelter hours to 6 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Monday at their location at the former St. Elizabeth Seton Church on Metropolitan Avenue in Lower Sackville.
  • Adsum for Women and Children is opening a warming centre at 2380 Gottingen Street from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
  • There will be a shelter at the Old School Gathering Place in Musquodoboit Harbour from 4 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday.

There will be buses in HRM to help take people to where they need to go, though the details and pickup plans are still being finalized.

The department is also providing funding to local partners and municipalities outside of HRM to open warming centres and expand shelter capacity as needed.

Cowan said the province is working with organizations, service providers, street navigators and front-line workers to ensure this information gets to the people who need it.

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“As things were confirmed … we would have put all that together and disseminated it directly to the service providers and the street navigators,” she said.

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The department is also working with the province and the municipality’s communications team, and utilizing libraries and the 211 system to get the message out.

“Any of the groups that generally have day-to-day contact with folks that are vulnerable and will need these supports, we’ll let them know in advance,” she said.

“Our partners – the organizations and the street navigators and the housing support workers – they really do a lot of that work for us, and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

— with files from Skye Bryden-Blom

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