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Catholic archdiocese in Nova Scotia installs 20 emergency shelters on church grounds

HALIFAX — Justin Strang experienced homelessness when he arrived in Nova Scotia from Ontario last month, but his new home on the property of a Halifax-area church is offering him stability while he looks for permanent housing.
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HALIFAX — Justin Strang experienced homelessness when he arrived in Nova Scotia from Ontario last month, but his new home on the property of a Halifax-area church is offering him stability while he looks for permanent housing.

"I think for me, it means that there is hope," Strang, 35, said during an interview Wednesday in front of his home — a small shelter on the land owned by St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Dartmouth, N.S.

Strang is living in one of 20 emergency shelters set up on church property, mostly in the Halifax area. The shelter program is run by the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth, through an initiative called the Crisis Emergency Shelters program. 

Officials from the archdiocese said the final two portable shelters were erected in Bedford, N.S., on Monday, completing the process of construction and installation that began last year.

Strang was placed in the single-person shelter just before Christmas. "I think it’s a great thing, especially for Nova Scotia with the housing situation the way it is right now."

The provincial government has said that addressing the shortage of affordable housing in the Halifax area is a priority. In November, Premier Tim Houston named former Liberal cabinet minister Geoff MacLellan to head the new provincial task force to look for ways the government could more quickly approve residential housing projects in the region.

John Stevens, the project manager for the Crisis Emergency Shelters program, says the units are a temporary measure for those experiencing homelessness. "It’s a room to call their own," Stevens said during an interview Tuesday.

The 20 heated shelters, which measure 2.5 metres by 2.5 metres, come with a built-in bed, lighting, USB charging ports and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. They each cost the archdiocese $11,500. They were paid for by church donations and built with the help of Dartmouth-based Well Engineered Incorporated. 

Neil Wolthers, operations manager at the engineering company, said the structures were designed and built in six weeks, adding that they can withstand battering from the elements and are long-lasting when properly maintained.

Wolthers said shelter residents are given access to a variety of resources aside from a safe place to stay. "When somebody is experiencing homelessness … instead of finding themselves in a tent in the winter, they'll be able to move in to one of these shelters, and they'll have the congregation alongside, so they'll have support."

Feedback on the shelters has been positive, Stevens said, adding that residents have been "grateful" to have safe housing, especially during the winter months.

Stevens says the shelters are expected to be in place until May 31 and that the church is open to reusing them next winter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press

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