Nova Scotia still searching for sites to put tiny shelters for homeless

Nova Scotia's cabinet minister in charge of homelessness says his department is hustling to get all the tiny shelters it bought last year up and running, but finding appropriate sites and enough staff to support their operation is proving difficult.

"We're looking at everywhere and anywhere," Brendan Maguire told reporters Wednesday.

The province spent $7.5 million last fall on 200 temporary housing units from American company Pallet.

Nineteen are operating at a site in Lower Sackville, 96 are in progress at various locations around the province and 85 are stuck in limbo.

"We're on the ground, we are looking at several other locations. The issue that we kind of run into is just, quite frankly, is the human resources," Maguire said.

One possible location is Shannon Park, a former military housing community in Dartmouth.

MLA Brendan Maguire announced Thursday he was leaving the Liberal Party after 10 years to sit as a member of the Progressive Conservative caucus and come Nova Scotia's new community services minister.
Department of Community Services Minister Brendan Maguire says he's confident all the Pallet shelters will be operating in time for winter. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Two months ago, Ottawa flagged the land as a possible location for temporary housing, and offered it to the province and municipality "at nominal cost" to use for alleviating homelessness.

At that time, Maguire said he was interested in the offer, but hadn't gotten into detailed discussions about it.

Now, he says he's keen on using the land and has met with Sean Fraser, the federal minister of housing.

Maguire said he's told Fraser "We will take it tomorrow."

Maguire said the province is now waiting on the green light from Canada Lands, the federal Crown corporation that manages Shannon Park.

MacKay Bridge as seen from Shannon Park on Jan. 8, 2019.
Shannon Park, a former military housing community, sits at the foot of the MacKay Bridge in Dartmouth. Canada Lands has offered one to two hectares to be used for temporary housing. (Robert Short/CBC)

But Canada Lands said it's waiting on the province.

"We understand that a number of sites, including Shannon Park, are being evaluated to determine the suitability for temporary housing," a spokesperson said via email, adding that once a decision is made the province would "conduct an engagement process with stakeholders."

Hiring more people

The province has been partnering with community groups to manage the operations of Pallet shelters. Staff at the shelter villages are meant to help connect residents to addictions and mental health services, and find employment and permanent housing.

Maguire said the organizations that are doing this work already are all doing "an exceptional job," but their capacity is stretched. He said his department is stretched for human resources, too.

He said community services is in the midst of hiring more staff to increase its workforce by 20 per cent, and it is funding some of its community partners to hire new people.

Maguire said he's confident all the Pallet shelters will be operating by this winter.