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'We were just so deflated': New Glasgow homeless shelter frustrated with red tape around charitable status application

Tammy MacLaren stands outside the Viola's Place society homeless shelter on Donald St, New Glasgow.
Tammy MacLaren stands outside the Viola's Place society homeless shelter on Donald St, New Glasgow. - Brendan Ahern
NEW GLASGOW, N.S. —

A homeless shelter in New Glasgow has had its charitable status application delayed for an unreasonable amount of time, says a board member.

“It’s a basic application, and the CRA website says it should only take two months,” said Tammy MacLaren who sits on the board for Viola’s Place Society. Yesterday, MacLaren received some bad news from CRA.

“They said that it could be nine more months until approval.”

That’s a long time to wait for a shelter which, according to MacLaren has been at capacity for most of the short time that it has been in operation.

Viola’s Place homeless shelter opened on Oct. 26, 2018.

“The first two days we didn’t have anyone,” MacLaren told The News. “Since then we’ve had over 800 bed nights.”

Thus far, Viola’s place has depended on donations of clothing, food, hygiene supplies and cash from the community. Not to mention volunteers.

“There’s no way our doors would be open without our volunteers,” said MacLaren. “We probably have between 40 and 60 and a hard-core of 20 that we have every night.”

But the bills for heating and water are high, especially in the winter. MacLaren says that one heating bill over a two-month period had been $3,600.

MacLaren says that being registered as a charity would help offset costs and would incentivize larger businesses to donate. The board of directors of Viola’s Place made its first application for it before it even opened.

Their first application was returned to the board in 2018 with a list of things that needed to be adjusted or re written in order to be approved.

“At that time, the application included many different things, like our long-term plans, so when we sent it back we scaled it back,” said MacLaren.

When they sent their second application MacLaren says that the board made sure that a lawyer checked it over to ensure that it would not be sent back again.

“And then we sent it off feeling like, it’s done, it will not be sent back.”

March 5 their application was returned back to them.

MacLaren says that the reason CRA returned it was due to the fact that the second application did not include original copies of the non-profit’s memorandum of association seals. The CRA website states that issues arising from documents like these are a common cause for delay. But MacLaren says that the CRA had already received those documents in the very first application that Viola's Place made.

“They had them. The new application had a copy of the originals, and they had the originals. But that wasn’t good enough so we had to go purchase the original copies again.”

Nevertheless, the Viola’s Place Board again paid to have those official documents sent to them from Nova Scotia Joint Stocks and then had them officially. the last application was sent on March 14.

On May 2, a letter was sent to the Viola’s Place board president. The content of that letter informed the board that their application could take up to nine more months to be processed. The individual to whom the letter was addressed was away at the time, and so the Viola’s Place board only heard about the extra nine-month wait on May 15.

“We were just so deflated,” said MacLaren. “We weren’t told why, just that it could take nine more months. I checked the website last night and it said that a basic application should take two months.”

According to the CRA website, a properly completed application can usually be reviewed within two months.

“They’ve been back and forth prior to their most recent submission and we’ve been trying to facilitate that conversation with the agency,” said Central Nova MP Sean Fraser, referring to the missing documents in the previous applications.

“It really highlights for me the difficulty that small community organizations have in complying with the fairly complex sets of rules for charitable status.”

As for the nine-month wait time Fraser said that he will look into the cause for the delay.

“The nine months is outside of normal processing times,” he said. “I have not heard from the agency responsible that it will take that long, and I’m going to call to make sure that the application is processed in accordance with their standards.”

Back in New Glasgow, Viola’s Place is still providing a service for some of the most vulnerable individuals in Pictou and Antigonish county.

“The compassion at the shelter level is not carrying through to the people that can give us the charitable status that can help us,” said MacLaren. “They don’t know what a difference this could make to so many people.

“What broke my heart a couple of weeks ago was when a fellow came to the door and we were full,” said MacLaren her voice slightly shaking. “We were full. And one of our clients who was already there gave up his bed to let this guy in.”

CRA was contacted but could not provide an immedaite response.

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