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SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. -Islanders don’t need to sleep in unsafe circumstances anymore, thanks to a new program launched Dec. 21.
When an Islander in urgent need of shelter calls the Temporary Shelter Support Referral line, they go through a brief assessment and then they’re lodged in a hotel room for the night. If they need a ride, the province will send a taxi to get them from anywhere in the province.
The next day, the clients will have a meeting with someone from the department of Family and Human Services to determine what services would help them most to find a more permanent home.
“We sit down and assess their needs and see where they might need some extra help. It might mean some of our services through social programs, it might mean housing services, it might mean mental health and addiction services at Canadian Mental Health. We try to connect them with whatever that void is in their situation,” said Minister of Family and Human Services Tina Mundy, whose department is administering the program.
“They will be put up for as long as necessary until we can find a long-term solution for them.”
As of Dec. 26, 21 people had used hotline, which is staffed by people from Family Violence Prevention Services.
No one from Prince County has taken the province up on the offer yet, but it is open to all Islanders no matter where they are.
So far, anyone who calls now will be put up in Charlottetown, but the program includes lodgings outside Charlottetown, said Mundy.
Staff have to find spots in hotels for them to stay outside the capital.
Michelle Arsenault is excited the helpline is up and running.
Arsenault works with West Prince Housing, they help clients from Summerside westward struggling to find a long-term home. She made a poster with the help line number on it as soon as she saw it.
“There’s definitely a huge need,” she said. “Whether they’re homeless, couch-surfing or living in unsafe or unhealthy situations.”
Arsenault’s caseload is consistently full, and the wait list just seems to grow longer, she said. Hotels the Arsenault has used in the past to house people are already full.
A couple times a month, she is faced with requests from people who have no place to go for the night.
“It’s really heartbreaking, because I didn’t have anything for them a lot of times,” she said. The helpline will change that, but rural homelessness is not a quick fix, she said.
Like West Prince Housing, the Temporary Shelter Support program will be offering services to help Islanders get into a more stable lifestyle.
“Sometimes the first placement isn’t successful, and sometimes the second isn’t and so we keep going until it is,” said Arsenault.
Next steps will include putting together a group of representatives from the community and government.
As for the lack of places people can afford, the province is working with property owners to get people into apartments, even if it means subsidising some of the rent.
The province has already provided 690 rent supplements.
“We will continue to work with landlords right across the province to make sure we do have affordable units for people,” said Mundy. “There are a lot of units on the market, but not many are affordable for people, so we said ‘Okay, how can we bridge that gap for people?’”
Long term solutions start with a safe place to spend the night. It makes everything else manageable, she said,
“It’s a housing-first model. Let’s make sure those people have a safe, warm place to go. Then let’s wrap those other services around them so that they can be successful.”
The Temporary Shelter Support Referral Line, for Islanders in urgent need of shelter is 1-833-220-4722.