Last year, the province continued to rely heavily on hotels for emergency shelter.
For two years in a row, Nova Scotia has placed hundreds of permanently homeless people in hotels, and the responsible minister says despite the cost of the practice, this will continue until the housing crisis subsides .
The Department of Community Services used hotels as a stopgap emergency housing solution for years, but that was a rarity. That started to change in 2019 when Halifax’s rental vacancy rate plummeted. In 2020, the number of emergency hotel stays has explodedas is the amount of money spent on these stays.
The province continued to rely heavily on hotels for emergency shelter last year, as revealed by new figures released through a combination of freedom of information requests and direct inquiries to the ministry.
In 2021, there were 282 unique cases in employment support and income assistance programs that required placement in hotels. The number of individuals represented by this statistic is almost certainly higher, as a case can be either a single person or a family, including a spouse and/or dependent children.
These stays cost the province nearly $1.5 million.
The number of cases and total cost fell slightly last year compared to 2020, when 307 cases of emergency hotel stays cost $1.7 million – but there are other factors to take into account for 2021.
The province provided $128,000 to shelters that took care of hotel stays for countless people last winter when the shelters reached capacity.
Three dozen additional hotel rooms were rented to people leaving jails and jails who would otherwise have been homeless, at a cost of over $930,000. This money was channeled through the John Howard Society and the Coverdale Courtwork Society.
An additional $516,000 went to Out of the Cold to temporarily move its shelter to a hotel during a COVID-19 outbreak and to help some of those evicted from tent camps last August move into hotels.
In total, more than $3 million has been spent on housing at least a few hundred people in hotels during 2021.
Hotels are not a permanent solution
Michelle Malette, executive director of Out of the Cold, said the hotel model works, in that it gives people the option to be indoors, but it has limitations.
“It’s never going to be permanent accommodation, obviously,” Malette said. “It’s a really fleeting and temporary opportunity for shelter.”
Malette said the lack of kitchens in most hotel rooms makes it expensive for people to feed themselves during their stays, as they always buy prepared meals. Additionally, Malette said people supported by Out of the Cold in hotels were often stigmatized and sometimes kicked out by hotel staff.
“The first hotel we stayed in [at] in the summer, we came in with, I think, 19 people, and I think we left with like…eight or nine of our original people.
Connect people to other services
Karla MacFarlane, the Minister for Community Services, said that although this is not a long-term answer to the housing crisis, she is ready to continue using hotels as emergency accommodation until until the supply of affordable housing in Nova Scotia improves.
MacFarlane said she thinks the model gives her department an effective way to connect people with any services they might need, including mental health and addictions treatment or employment support. .
“Having this bond where you can now bond and create a relationship with the individual works really well,” she said.
The goal, however, is to match people with permanent housing, and there are few housing options for Nova Scotians on income assistance. The monthly stipend for an individual – which is intended to cover food, clothing, housing, fuel, utilities and personal items – starts at $686.
In the fall of 2020, the last period for which the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation published statistics, the average rent for a studio apartment in Halifax was $865.
Still, MacFarlane said she thinks her department is having some success in transitioning people from hotels to permanent residences.
The frequency at which these transitions occur is unclear.
No data on where people go after hotel stays
A spokesman for the Department of Community Services said “given the complexity of tracking people moving from hotels to other accommodation options, we are unable to provide data at this time on the movement of people. from hotel to permanent accommodation”.
Christina Deveau said via email that clients are not required to share their housing plans with the department.
“However, we recognize that better data collection is needed and are working with community partners within HRM to better report on people’s successful transition to permanent housing and better understand the gaps and challenges within our system that hinder a successful transition.”