Way back on August 31, Halifax Regional Council held a special meeting to discuss the housing crisis. It was only a few weeks after the violent police action on August 18, and the disturbing images from that day were still at the forefront of the city’s collective consciousness.
The meeting was mainly councillors feeling remorseful, but included a little bit of discussing next steps in addressing the housing crisis. From it came a promise to spend $500,000 on housing in the short term and to give public updates for accountability biweekly at every council meeting.
Then, on September 29, Halifax mayor Mike Savage and de facto housing manager Erica Fleck took seats six feet apart at a press conference in city hall, and told assembled journalists that 73 modular housing units would soon make their way to the city for much-needed emergency shelter for unhoused Haligonians. The news was well received, and people were hopeful that the ongoing crisis would soon be at least slightly alleviated.
“Our goal is to deal with everybody in a way that suits their needs,” the mayor said at the time. It seemed like progress was being made.
But it’s now November, and the modular units are nowhere to be found. There has been no progress since that first announcement. No locations have been announced for the units, and no unhoused people have been told when, or even if, they’ll be able to move into a heated, insulated unit.
While the first press conference given by Savage and Fleck had significant public interest, the only time since then council discussed the modular units was in a meeting on October 26. No new information came from that. “Staff are working to identify and secure a Halifax site to install modular units, with confirmation of the location and number of units able to be placed yet to be determined.,” said a written update from Fleck. So far, HRM has spent $144,746 of the $500,000 but is already expecting to increase that to a total of $1 million to “continue the rehabilitation of the modular units and prepare for placement.”
Last week, Halifax District 7 Downtown councillor Waye Mason told CBC that the locations would be announced this week, but walked that back in an email to The Coast on Thursday. “I’ve got nothing,” Mason wrote. “Soon is what I hear.” An HRM spokesperson also told The Coast, via email, “an update will be available next week.”
Fleck, who’s supposed to be doing boots-on-the-ground work, has refused repeated requests for interviews with The Coast since an interview on October 8 (published here on October 14). At the time, she said the units would be occupied “before the snow flies,” but the city has never given an exact date that people can expect the modular units to be ready.
“I’ve never seen these things, I don’t know that they exist. I don’t know anyone that’s actually seen them in the city.”
Meanwhile, those who should have insider information about the modular units’ arrival have also been told nothing. “Nothing at all has been confirmed for us in any way,” says Michelle Malette, executive director of Out of the Cold Shelter in Halifax, the service provider designated to place people in the units once they arrive. “I’ve never seen these things, I don’t know that they exist. I don’t know anyone that’s actually seen them in the city.”
A Dartmouth hotel, the Travelodge Suites, is also being converted into a shelter, funded not by the city but by the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia. This project will see 65 units created, but the modular units and more are needed to aid the estimated 409 unhoused people in HRM.
At this point, even if the modular unit locations are announced next week, it still could take several more weeks for electric, water and sewer services to be hooked up, leaving service providers to race against the cold weather to select which clients can move in, notify them and set up wrap-around services on site.