Despite bone-chilling wind and the temperature sitting around -16 degrees, a recent Sunday was warm and happy for the Out of the Cold housing association. The long-awaited day had finally arrived when a group of unhoused people got to move out of the Gray Arena, which was being used as a makeshift shelter since early 2021, and into modular units provided by the municipality. “It was really great and very chaotic,” says Kat Stein, Out of the Cold’s program manager for the shelter.
“That part was really beautiful, you know, people finally getting to see the space that gets to be theirs, and getting to kind of explore their new home,” Stein says. “And you know, just kind of a giddy, fun move-in energy for sure.”
With the help of community donations and finishing touches like art and lighting provided by the Trainyard General Store, the units came fully furnished. They’re small and according to Stein quite cramped, but they’re home.
“One of the residents that got here first went in and checked out their room and then progressively throughout the day as more people arrived, they would just be like the welcoming committee,” Stein says. “Being like, This place is awesome, let me show you your room! It really brought the energy up and the joy. It was just so nice to see people being able to move into a space that is theirs, that they get to decorate and there's a door that locks.”
While the energy on the ground was positive, that’s not to say Out of the Cold hasn’t faced challenges getting here. The modular units were originally supposed to be ready months ago, and the housing crisis has only gotten worse since the units were first promised in late September 2021. A set of modulars for Halifax that was originally supposed to be open now has been pushed back a month to the end of February.
“Moving is always hard,” says Stein, adding that the shelter itself has moved four times in the past year, many residents along with it. With the Gray Arena now closed, the remaining OTC clients are in hotel rooms until another permanent shelter is found or other options become available.
Even at the Dartmouth modular units, Stein says “things are still in move-in mode.” With the shared kitchen unit not yet complete (as well as two accessible units, which will bring the total number of residents to 26), a microwave and donated food are the main source of nourishment for residents and OTC staff who are on site 24 hours a day. HRM’s website says the accessible units (and presumably the kitchen as well) are expected to be completed in “early February.”
“We are just trying to figure out how things work in this space,” Stein says. “Going from a shelter to a supportive housing model is a big transition.”
Despite earlier NIMBYism from the community, Stein says “we’ve got a pretty warm welcome” and there have been no issues so far.
Once things settle down, Stein is looking forward to facilitating programming for residents, as well as becoming more a part of the community. Everyone who’s living in the units has been paired with one of six case managers at Out of the Cold, who are onsite five days a week. So far, Stein says it’s just been great to see people feeling safe and secure in a place they can call their own.
“For folks who haven’t had a landing pad or stable living environment in however long, they’re finally able to unpack their stuff and get some things that they need,” they say. “As well as getting their health card or applying for income assistance or figuring our medications. Just stuff they wouldn’t have been able to do, the stability is allowing folks to have the space to do that.”