Additional Pallet Shelter Questions

The questions below represent questions we have received about the CBRM Pallet Shelter Village over the last two weeks. They have come to us via e-mail and social media. Additional questions can be sent to [email protected].

What is the plan and the timeline for the village?

Pallet Shelter Villages are a rapid response to homelessness across Nova Scotia. We all feel the urgency to provide more supportive housing, especially for those experiencing homelessness and we are working as quickly as possible.  In part, this means that the development is happening more quickly than would normally be the case to get the Villages established as soon as possible, get people out of the cold, and prevent weather-related deaths.

The village in Whitney Pier is one of three sites being built in February/March with more coming online later in spring.  This village will contain 30 individual shelters, washroom and laundry facilities, communal buildings (for eating and programming), and outdoor space.

There are several steps still between now and the village opening, including a final site survey, site preparation (water and power hookups, etc.), village assembly, fencing and inspections.

The Village in CBRM should be ready to open by late February/early March; residents will move in thereafter.

You say this will save lives - how?

The last Point-in-Time (or PIT) count in the CBRM identified 325 people who were homeless. This represents substantial growth in the number of people who are homeless in the CBRM.

We estimate that currently there are between 30 and 40 people living in tents in our community. These people are most at risk of dying from extreme winter weather.

While we might not want to believe that the growing number of people in all of our communities who are homeless and struggle with addiction are from the Island, they are. No one is shipped here from Halifax. No one is shipped here from Calgary (or Montreal or Toronto).  It is possible that some who are homeless in our community have come here on their own from other parts of the Island. We would never dream of turning someone away because they are from Inverness or Port Hawkesbury.

The CBRM Pallet Shelters will save lives by giving people who are currently sleeping in tents, parks, and abandoned buildings a safe, heated, simple unit in which to live. They will no longer be at risk of dying from extreme cold as has already happened to one individual in the CBRM this winter and happened to others in HRM and in New Brunswick.

The Pallet Village also creates a cohesive and supportive community for those who have been sleeping hidden and isolated in tents, which we know leave a person vulnerable to overdose and other harms.

In addition to stable and safe housing, the CBRM Pallet Shelter Village will host a range of service providers and programs that, in addition to moving people to permanent, affordable, supportive housing will help them to identify the other areas in their life (health, mental health, additions, income/employment) where they would like help.

The Province, Municipality, New Dawn, and Ally Centre are all involved – who is responsible for what?

The Department of Community Services has the mandate to increase supportive housing and other solutions to help with the homelessness crisis in Nova Scotia.  As part of this, DCS is leading the purchase, planning, and construction of 200 Pallet shelters for villages in several areas of Nova Scotia. All costs for the Shelters, site preparation, and operations are being provided by the Province to ensure that all Nova Scotians have somewhere to go to get out of the weather and stay warm overnight.

The municipality has signalled support to the province and service providers on finding appropriate solutions to bring residents in from out o the cold.  The municipality has not made an investment in the Pallet Shelter Village and does not plan to make one. The municipality has been helpful in providing answers and direction as the project progresses (via the Director of Planning, CAO, Chief of Police, etc.).

New Dawn and the Ally Centre will work together to design the set-up of the Village and its operations. The Ally Centre will post and hire a manager for the site, as well as enough full and part-time support workers to make sure that a minimum of two staff are on-site 24-7.

The Ally Centre will do the intake process for residents. All individuals interested in residing in the Pallet Village must complete a Vulnerability Assessment Tool. They will complete it with a trained staff person who will ask them each question in the VAT.

New Dawn will:

  • coordinate non-staffing services like contracted cleaning and repairs and maintenance
  • coordinate the preparation and delivery of meals (two hot meals per day per resident)
  • hold the contract with the province for the village.

Who are the residents and how will they be identified? How long can they stay?

The Pallet village is for people who are experiencing homelessness.  Currently we estimate there are 30-40 people living in tents in CBRM. These people are most at risk of dying from extreme winter weather.

A resident will be assigned a unit, with a key, that becomes theirs and is a place they return to each night and a place where they can safely leave and lock their belongings. That is their unit until they are transitioned to permanent, affordable, supportive housing. For many, it will be the first time in years that they have had a dependable, secure, warm place to stay every night.

Anyone interested in residing in a unit must complete a Vulnerability Assessment Tool or VAT. This is a two-hour questionnaire that ranks their vulnerability across ten areas. The VAT is a structured way of measuring a person’s vulnerability to instability. Service providers use the VAT to identify individuals who would benefit most from high-impact interventions such as supportive housing or ongoing community based intensive case management services.

What services will be provided to residents of the village?

The services onsite will include:

Support Staff: There will be two 24-7 support staff who work 365 days a year. The project will hire full-time, part-time, and casual support staff to have a sufficient roster of trained staff for all shifts.

In addition to these, a manager will be on site in daytime working hours (Monday to Friday 9-5 or 8-4) and will be responsible for coordinating intake, case management, village policies, village programming, transition to permanent housing, etc.

Food: Hot lunch and supper seven days a week prepared and served by Meals on Wheels.

Healthcare: Street health nurse would identify any critical physical health issues and ensuring a pathway to care (i.e. care from the nurse, referral to the health clinic at the Ally Centre, referral to other health services). Medication will be monitored by the resident themselves, the 24/7 support workers, and the Manager, in conjunction with the health services team based at the Ally Centre and any other health professionals that residents need and want to engage.

Housing support: trained staff whose role is to identify a pathway to permanent housing and work with the resident to get what they need in place (i.e. identification, income support, credit checks, references, wrap-around supports, etc.) to secure the kind of housing they need.

Case management: each individual in entering the Village enters into a case management relationship with staff. Case management means that staff and the individual work together to identify their goals, assets, barriers, and opportunities and create a realistic plan to help them move towards their goals.

Addictions and mental health supports: We have had offers to lead an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) session on site.  We are working to identify the kinds of mental health and addictions services that would benefit residents. In part, this will be confirmed once we know who the residents are and what their needs and goals are.

Other services not included in the list above that the residents need/want and can be coordinated as the individual needs and hopes of each resident are determined through the intake and case management process.

How and why was this piece of land chosen? Were other communities in CBRM given the right to say no to a Pallet village in their community?

The primary goal of this temporary housing is to bring people inside who are sleeping rough and to bring the wraparound supports individuals need to be able to transition to longer term or more permanent supportive and affordable housing.

There is a lot to consider in choosing an appropriate site for a Pallet village, and work has to happen quickly.  In addition to finding available suitable land, we need to make sure service providers are able to support the site, it is relatively close to amenities, near transit routes, and has the ability to be hooked up to power, water, and sewer services.

In order to be able to move quickly in CBRM, it was identified in late 2023 that, although the municipality is supportive of finding solutions to address homelessness, land owned privately or by the municipality would not be feasible.  This is because when the CBRM passed its new land use bylaws in July 2023, it prohibited communities of tiny homes or small dwelling communities. This means no one can just go ahead and build a tiny home community on CBRM lands or their own, private property. They need a zoning amendment and the process for securing an amendment, if it goes smoothly, takes 6-9 months. Provincially owned land is exempt from this, and small home communities or dwellings can go on provincially owned land.

Once this was confirmed, the province looked at their database of land that they owned in the CBRM for parcels that met the necessary criteria. The Railroad Street land best met all of these criteria.  It is already provincially owned.  The land is flat, clear of any buildings, ready to receive the development (not requiring any major clearing), large enough to accommodate 30 units and shared facility buildings, in proximity to municipal services (water, sewer, power) for hook-ups, close to a transit stop, able to be fenced and well-lit, have secure and monitored access, and to meet all of the Dignity Standards set out and required by the manufacturer, Pallet.

Other locations were assessed but were deemed not suitable.  For example:

  • Accommodations cannot be built on Open Hearth Park lands/former tar pond lands.
  • New Dawn considered its own Pine Tree Park site, but this site would also be subject to the 6–9-month zoning amendment process.

The Henry St. site is the only viable option the province has found that meets all of the necessary requirements. No other communities were engaged, asked, or given the right to say no.

The quote in the Cape Breton Post about the Northend and the Southend (and some in these communities not wanting supportive housing) was referring to a different project, the Rapid Housing development which is proceeding on New Dawn’s property behind the New Dawn Centre (former Holy Angels high school in the Northend). Unlike the temporary Pallet Village, this will be permanent supportive housing.

Will the village expand? Will there be tents outside the village?

The Pallet Village creates a cohesive and supportive community which protects those who have been sleeping hidden and isolated in tents, which leaves a person vulnerable to overdose and other harms.  There are no plans for the growth or extension of the site. It can accommodate 30 units and 30 people. That’s it.

Rather than growing, the site is set up to shrink. Its goals are to: (1) keep people alive and (2) move them to affordable, supportive, permanent housing as soon as possible.

No additional Pallet Shelters will be added to the Village or to the site.

There will be no tents or dwellings outside of the gates.  The village is not an encampment.  The Village is transitional housing. The goal is to move people into permanent, supportive, affordable housing as soon as possible.

Do the Pallet Shelters meet building requirements?

The Shelters will meet all of the required provincial and national regulations. They have been undergoing rigorous assessment and will be stamped by Canadian engineers.

The S2 Sleeper (the model being purchased by the Province of Nova Scotia) features robust fire, wind, and snow load ratings, and integrated smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Each shelter is equipped with a durable solid core locking front door with kick plate and peephole, along with a fire extinguisher and egress window in case of emergency.

Cabin spacing must be approved by the local fire authority, and villages operators enforce a strict policy against smoking.

There are already repairs necessary on the Whitney Pier Heritage trail – is this going to make things worse?

We would propose a conversation with municipal and provincial representatives about the repairs and work needed on the heritage trail, particularly the entrance to the trail. The disrepair of the trail (burned out lights, overgrowth) has been raised a number of times. We understand this to be a municipal responsibility.

Suggestions have included: (1) replace all burned out lights (2) add additional lighting (3) clear trees and bushes that people are currently using to conceal drug dealing (4) add mirrors to tunnel in a way that allows tunnel users to assess their safety as they pass through.

What income will residents of the Pallet village have? Will they have to pay rent?

It can be difficult for some to secure income assistance without a permanent address. If you are homeless and without employment, AND you can’t get income assistance, it is then impossible to secure permanent housing.

After moving into the CBRM Pallet Shelter Village, residents will be helped with things like getting ID, registering for provincial income (and other) supports, opening a bank account, finding permanent supportive housing that they can afford, and connecting to a range of social, medical, and mental health services.

There will be no rent charged to residents of the Pallet Shelter Village. If they are successful in an application for income assistance, they will not need to use this to pay rent at the Village. The goal of the Village is to move people to permanent, supportive, affordable housing which will require monthly rent (among other) expenses.

I have heard of a housing project in the Northend. Is this the same?

There are currently 25 units of permanent supportive, affordable rental housing (Rapid Housing units) being built by New Dawn on a property owned by New Dawn in the Northend. A small number of residents in the Northend did not want these units built in the Northend and tried to stop the development.

These permanent supportive housing units will open in late 2024 and this will be where many of the Pallet Shelter residents move to.

What are police protocols for responding to the Pallet village? I’ve heard about lockdowns at the Ally Centre – what would that look like here?

This is a question best directed to the Cape Breton Regional Police, but like any residential location in CBRM, the police will be policing the Village. The Village is somewhat like a home, and we want residents to treat it (with care and pride) like they would their home. Police wouldn’t monitor (inside a home) or visit a home, unless they had been called, or had other reasons to believe a crime was being committed. The police will be provided the access they need when they are called or have reason to believe a crime is being committed.

Regarding lockdown protocols, our understanding is that a lockdown can occur for a number of reasons. For example, staff may suspect that someone has a weapon and may call the police and initiate an internal lockdown as a precaution. Police will arrive and investigate.

If it is determined by police or staff that someone does have a weapon and they are an imminent danger to others, nearby households may be notified by the police.  It would be the police and other emergency services professionals who would determine if, when, and to what extent to notify surrounding buildings.

This is not a decision that staff at the Village would make, and in the case of a lockdown they would not be able to contact neighbours in person or by phone.

What policies are being put in place to ensure safety and cleanliness?

We are working to develop operating policies for the Pallet Village to have in place before opening.

We hope to borrow and then adapt polices from other service providers who have hosted similar (temporary, supportive) housing communities in the past. Although New Dawn has operated housing, and the Ally Centre has provided harm reduction services, this project is the first time we are coming together to plan and operate rapid response temporary dwellings.

When we have these policies drafted, we will post them on our website so that anyone who is interested can get a clear understanding of how the village operates. As it stands now, like in any other home, residents will be able to engage in legal activities like drinking alcohol, smoking cigarette, and smoking cannabis.

Residents with addictions will not be turned away. Housing is a first and necessary step in moving towards long term stability and health.  We expect there will be a range of harm reduction services offered on site, but no overdose prevention site or supervised consumption site. An overdose prevention or supervised consumption site would require federal government approval and is a process (like the OPS at the Ally Centre) that takes a few years to complete.

Each Pallet shelter village mandates a zero-tolerance policy toward violence, abuse of power, threats/intimidation, sexual harassment/assault, or discrimination of any kind. Residents must be able to abide by these guidelines which are set out by the Pallet company.

The Village will be staffed 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year by two staff. A number of additional staff and services will be onsite during the day. There will be 24/7 security cameras all around the site and the site and its perimeter will be well lit.

We have engaged the Cape Breton Regional Police to discuss police protocol at/with the Village and to review the site plan once the survey has been completed.

We have proposed a community safety liaison committee (5-6 community members from Whitney Pier) to meet monthly with New Dawn to discuss the site, operations, community integration, concerns, suggestions, etc. This would be in place for as long as the Village is open.

A plan is being formulated for resources/personnel to inspect and clean up the grounds around the village on a daily basis. The scope of the area to be inspected has not yet been finalized. It will be finalized as the layout of the village is finalized. It will include, at minimum, the area around the village, approaching the village, and down to and through the entrance to the Heritage trail.

What about my property values?

Property Values Services Corporation (PVSC) assesses property values in Nova Scotia once a year. PVSC will not re-evaluate the value of homes in Whitney Pier on the basis of the Village being added.

It is unlikely that when taxes are evaluated next year you will see a decline in your assessment. Many factors go into assessments and a fully funded, staffed, and structure public service is not going to negatively impact values from the perspective of PVSC.

This can be a common concern from neighbors of supportive housing; much research on the topic has been done across Canada and the United States and a decrease in property values has not been found.

Will there be investments in affordable housing so that people have a place to transition to out of the Pallet village?

New Dawn and the Ally Centre have set a goal to move all residents out of the village and into permanent, supportive, affordable housing within 12-18 months. The majority of the Pallet village residents will transition to the Rapid Housing units being built behind the New Dawn Centre in the Northend.

New Dawn is working on a proposal to build a small home community (approx. 15 units) at Pine Tree Park on land already owned by New Dawn on the outskirts of Whitney Pier (subject to the required municipal rezoning) that would permanent, supportive, affordable housing to individuals who did not require harm reduction services or harm reduction housing. The timeline for this development is March 2024-January 2025.

Residents of the Pallet Shelter village who want/need harm reduction services and harm reduction housing will be prioritized for the 25 new Raid Housing units being built on Charlotte Street in Sydney and opening in late 2024.

Between both developments all residents of the Pallet Shelter Village will be able to find permanent, supportive, affordable housing.

Residents do not have to wait for this additional housing to open. From the day they arrive in the Village, staff will be working with each person to find appropriate housing that they can afford. If they and their housing support worker can find existing housing that meets their needs and they can afford, their transition to that housing will begin.

What has it taken you so long to engage the community?

Pallet Shelter Villages are a rapid response to homelessness across Nova Scotia. In part, this means that the development is happening more quickly than would normally be the case in an effort to get the Villages established as soon as possible, get people out of the cold, and prevent weather-related deaths.

Where CBRM zoning does not allow for small dwelling (or tiny home) villages “as of right” and a 6-9 month rezoning process would be required for the set-up of the village on any private or municipal land, the focus has been on provincially owned lands.

The land was confirmed as meeting the necessary criteria in late December. The announcement of the site was made on January 10th as part of a broader technical briefing on the Province’s response to homelessness.

On January 11th, MLA Coombs reached out to the Minister to request a community information session. “Speaking with the Minister today, he assured me the community’s request for a community information session would be followed through on.  The timeframe for that meeting will depend on staff availability from the Department of Community Services and the Service Providers.”

February 5th was the first date on which a venue could be secured, and all parties could attend.

We regret that the community, community representatives, and community leaders learned of the Village in the news media. We know this creates concern, anxiety, a lot of questions, anger, and mistrust.