The mayor of a small town in Nova Scotia wants people to know that the housing crisis is not just in big cities.
“The struggle is real from coast to coast,” said David Mitchell, mayor of Bridgewater, a community of fewer than 10,000 people on the south shore of the province.
“I have never seen a housing crisis like this. I don’t think any of us experienced the housing crisis that way. It’s not an easy solution, but obviously we have to find solutions.
Mitchell estimates there are hundreds of homeless people in the area.
“We are also the service center for the region, so we have a higher population of people who are homeless or rough sleepers because they have access to certain services,” he said.
Even though the South Shore has seen steady growth over the past two decades, it is struggling to adapt to the population boom the province has experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Development hasn’t kept up,” Mitchell said. “People are displaced, whether it’s because of renovations or the sale of a house that could have contained some rental units and is now only a single family dwelling. »
A Bridgewater resident who has lived in the town all his life said community members were excluded. The resident, who does not wish to be named, says she is worried about the future.
“A lot of people come from Ontario and other cities where you can spend thousands of dollars on rent, but in a small town like Bridgewater, people can’t afford it,” she said. declared.
“No hope in sight”
Homelessness and the rising cost of living are straining local organizations trying to help.
In a statement, Kristi Tibbo, executive director of the South Shore Open Doors Association (SSODA), said the rate of homelessness in Lunenburg and Queens County is increasing “faster than ever” – beyond what ‘she and other non-profit organizations, can manage.
The charity, which helps connect people to housing, is facing unprecedented numbers of people in need, she said.
“Staff work very hard to support people who come through our doors, while also supporting people who have been waiting for a placement in housing for over a year,” Tibbo said.
“The workload has become increasingly difficult to manage, and I fear daily that I will not be able to retain staff given the situations they face daily with no hope in sight. »
Tibbo said the housing crisis, coupled with inflation, is forcing people into “incredibly dire and dangerous situations”, where housing is increasingly unavailable and where available housing may not match budgets or needs. people’s accessibility needs.
“The situation has forced many households to make heartbreaking decisions: mothers have to sleep in cars while children stay with families, elderly people sleep in parks, young adults take shelter in very precarious neighborhoods of the city,” she said.
“This level of crisis still results in damage to the community, and we are witnessing the damage within our community.
“We really need to act now. »
John Christensen, Bridgewater site director of the Souls Harbor Rescue Mission, said local nonprofits are “doing our best to come together.”
“It has been very difficult for people to find affordable and safe housing,” he said. “Even though we donate food and clothes and things like that, it’s really a desperate time for a lot of people. »
He said in October of last year, Souls Harbor was giving out 15 meals a day. Now it’s over 100.
“We have seen an increase in the number of people who come here, but who are not homeless, but who have everything to pay rent, and therefore they have no money for food, nor to buy things. extra,” he said.
Mayor Mitchell said while housing is a provincial responsibility, the municipality is doing what it can to bring more affordable housing online.
But he said other issues that impact homelessness need to be addressed, noting the community lacks 24/7 mental health and addictions support.
“It’s not just housing, it’s all the support that goes with it,” he said. “And that’s what we desperately need across the province.”
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