On Jul 13, 2023, Nova Scotia Minister of Community Services Karla MacFarlane explained how the PC government considers rising homelessness in Halifax a natural occurrence. With such a comment, people should ask what are this government’s priorities?. How can a government fix a problem when they do not even recognize it as a problem?
Minister MacFarlane explained, “We’re all living paycheque to paycheque. It’s a very challenging time with inflation.” This comment showcases the degree to which our government ministers are out of touch with the public. The minister makes over $138,000 a year, while most individuals are starving on much less.
The latest numbers have homelessness in Halifax up to staggering 940 people. These numbers represent an increase of 50 percent compared to 2022. Living conditions on the street are nothing short of brutal. People are fighting to survive and are lucky to do so. These are individuals in our communities who have been abandoned by the government and could be thriving with support and resources.
What is our government doing about this? Not much, given that by their own admission, the PC government thinks it’s a natural occurrence.
Houston government ignoring crisis
The rise of homelessness is not normal. Everyone from seniors to young people is worried about how secure (or, more likely, insecure) their home situation is. The issue is not only finding a home, but keeping it. Compared to 2022, rent prices are up 25 percent. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Halifax has skyrocketed to $2000 per month.
The minimum wage in Nova Scotia is $14.50/hour. For someone working full-time, their total pay before taxes and deductions is $2050 – just $50 more than the cost of an average one bedroom apartment.
In the face of this crisis, the Houston government has invested $1.3 million into a home-sharing app known as Happipad. This platform will attempt to set up people looking for housing with rentable spare room in individuals’ homes. Although the partnership was initially agreed upon for the emergency situations caused by the wildfires in June the government is now attempting to use the app to solve the homeless crisis.
But vacant bedrooms here and there will not address skyrocketing rent prices which are forcing people from their homes.
The government’s strategy is to let the market fill the need for housing by building more and hoping that an increase in supply will lower prices. This is a failing strategy as rent prices in Halifax are still sky high and not expected to come down. The apartments which are being built are simply priced too high for people to afford.
While the province has funded the building of a small number of affordable housing units, it has not been enough. Making housing affordable must be a priority of this government and the funding of just 954 affordable rental units in the last 5 years clearly not enough.
As the public demands action, the Houston government seems to prefer to look the other way. The government’s paltry actions show their view of homelessness is disconnected from reality.
MacFarlane has repeatedly claimed the government does not want to see individuals living rough. She points to how the government is supporting some individuals living in shelters and hotels.
But talk is cheap and action is everything. The governments actions are out of touch.
Without action, homelessness to get worse
A study done by the University of Toronto found that one out of every four Nova Scotians struggle with food insecurity. This has jumped 22 per cent since 2022.
Pensions, social assistance, and minimum wage have not kept up with inflation, leaving seniors, low-wage workers, and others vulnerable to eviction. With rising food prices, many people are spending almost all their household income on shelter and food.
Another leading factor in the rising homelessness has been renovictions. Landlords evict tenants, make minor renovations, and then list apartments at a much higher rent beyond what the previous tenant can afford.
Add to this, the crisis in mental health care, the lack of addictions and mental health supports and programs, high levels of extreme poverty, and no new public housing stock, and the we can see why homelessness is continuing to skyrocket.
Without increasing wages and investments in affordable housing and public services, renters will continue to be displaced, until they cannot afford shelter at all. Without significant government action and public investment, these systematic issues will continue to erode our city.
August 19, 2021 was an infamous day in downtown Halifax. Citizens came out to protest the government’s displacement of people with nowhere to go living on public land. HRM police arrested and pepper sprayed several protestors including a child.
Community members will need to continue to stand up for our unhoused neighbours and ourselves if we want to see the action needed to tackle the housing crisis.
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