NEW GLASGOW – A roundtable held at the Life Centre last week to discuss youth homelessness led to a productive conversation about contributing factors and possible solutions in the county.
Roots For Youth board member and New Glasgow councilor Nancy Dicks reminded attendees that with the opening of New Glasgow Academy, it will leave three schools vacant, buildings that could have the potential to be turned into affordable housing options.
“Tell me what the next step would be,” Dicks asked of two representatives from a low income housing organization from Halifax.
Grant Wanzel and Bryce Thibodeau with the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia led a conversation with several organizations that deal with homelessness in Pictou County at a discussion hosted by Roots For Youth and the Life Shelter.
Wanzel is one of the founding members of the non-profit organization out of Halifax.
Since 1989, he’s been working on housing solutions in the Halifax Regional Municipality. They’ve developed a number of properties, including one still in the works on Gottingen Street.
They’ve recently had meetings in the South Shore and Amherst, and are planning one in the Inverness area.
Wanzel said the conversation in Pictou County was very promising.
“People are not likely to sit on this.”
He noted that although homelessness in the county was not at dire levels at this point, there is potential for it to get worse with Michelin job losses.
“I hope people think about that before it happens.”
He said developing housing projects involves a lot of complexities.
“Getting that sorted out takes time, energy and cooperation,” he said, noting that it often takes years to get off the ground.
AHANS looks to a housing first model, which focuses on finding a home for someone with no pre-conditions such as sobriety.
Keith Hazzard who runs the Life Shelter said they see approximately six people that are perpetually homeless. He noted that they have a number of the transient population, a group of people always on the move, dropping in.
Tearmann House is experiencing three generations of homelessness. They’re seeing the grandchildren of women that came to them when they opened in 1984.
Lambrini Soulos, executive director, said the wait for a single person dwelling can range from four to 12 years. Chronic illness and safety issues push people up the list, but there’s still a significant wait involved there too.
Housing for seniors comes with its own issues, with available units in River John and Merigomish.
“There are 10 to 15 seniors applying for that with no access to transportation,” Soulis said.
The cheap housing that does exist isn’t necessarily affordable, or safe.
Hazzard said the organizations in the area are aware of the landlords that neglect their properties, or overcharge for unlivable apartments.
He said they’re not all bad, and they need to work with them, rather than against.
“I think we often paint them all with one brush.”
Finding homes for youth can be extremely difficult, as most leases require someone older that can be held responsible.
Thibodeau said housing support workers need to take the risk and sign the lease for youth in those situations.
This is far from the first time these issues have been discussed.
It furthers discussions that have been held at meetings for Pictou County Partners, a collection of agencies that looks at many issues facing youth and their families in the area.
“It’s the table to be at to let everyone know what’s going on,” David Porter, executive director for Roots For Youth, said.
The roundtable gave the organizations a chance to hear from a group that has been working on housing solutions for more than two decades.
A housing hub model, combining living arrangements and services in the same building, was discussed as a possible solution.
In order to develop vacant buildings into an affordable housing option, Wanzel suggested to Dicks that an assessment would be the first step.
“It’s very important to have an idea about what to do with the building,” he said, noting that the condition, size and number of rooms in the three soon-to-be vacant schools is key to deciding which one is most appropriate.
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