Statement by Hannah Bell, Official Opposition Critic for Social Development and Housing, on government misinformation and inadequate shelter services on PEI
We have learned that Deacon House, an emergency shelter for men struggling with substance abuse, was closed on December 10 – despite recent assurances from the Minister of Health that the rumours of the closure were unfounded. (LaVie, C, 19 November 2020, “Additional housing for struggling Islanders”, Hansard, Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island, pg. 3538) With the closure of Deacon House, there are now only three shelters on Prince Edward Island that have been given the responsibility of meeting the diverse, critical needs of Islanders without secure housing. Two of these shelters are managed by two different government departments that do not share a common mandate or policy regarding Islanders without a home.
The piecemeal, inconsistent approach to giving Islanders a safe place to live is jeopardizing their safety, well-being, and health. It is burdening a system that is already unable to provide the level of care that is necessary to give people the minimal support they need to survive.
The issues are myriad and significant. Each needs to be addressed quickly and intentionally. We can no longer kick this wicked problem down the road. Islanders cannot afford a government that is proving to be unaware of the depth of this crisis and that is either unwilling to meet the needs identified or is indifferent to them.
First of all, shelters have no clear place in government’s policies. In fact, there is no department dedicated and empowered with a clear mandate to meet the needs of homeless people on PEI. At minimum:
- All shelter services should have a single point of responsibility within government;
- All shelter services must have consistent trauma-informed, client-centred policies that are published / transparent.
Secondly, there is a significant lack of safe, appropriate shelter services of both the emergency or transitional varieties. At minimum:
- Additional beds at Smith Lodge should be opened as soon as possible;
- Additional emergency accommodation should be provided to meet the actual needs of the housing insecure population;
- Rapid on-site COVID testing should be provided at Outreach Centre, and appropriate accommodation must be made available for clients who need to self-isolate.
Thirdly, there are no consistent policies or criteria outlining who receives shelter. At minimum:
- Clear information about services available, eligibility, and any delays should be communicated clearly and in the appropriate places (i.e. at Outreach Centre, Soup Kitchen);
- All staff who provide services through shelters and outreach should be familiar with and consistently apply the policies and criteria.
Lastly, there are inadequate training opportunities and wages to attract and retain the professional staff with the appropriate, necessary expertise and education. These clients have complex issues and needs, and staff need the right tools to help them. At minimum:
- Staff who work with clients and who make decisions and recommendations for services must have an adequate and appropriate level of training, and make informed decisions based on that training;
- Staff wages should reflect the stress and responsibilities of the work and be consistent across all shelters.
I am calling on government, and specifically the Minister of Health and Wellness and the Minister of Social Development and Housing, to immediately implement measures to resolve these critical failures and to give Islanders the help they must have right now. After all, it’s about people – even those with no fixed address.
Hannah Bell, MLA
Official Opposition Critic for Social Development and Housing