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Emotions run high at Whitney Pier meeting on shelter village

Many people in attendance at a meeting in Whitney Pier said they are opposed to the province's plans to create a village of 30 small shelters on a vacant lot in their community.  (Erin Pottie/CBC - image credit)
Many people in attendance at a meeting in Whitney Pier said they are opposed to the province's plans to create a village of 30 small shelters on a vacant lot in their community. (Erin Pottie/CBC - image credit)

More than 200 people packed into the Ukrainian Parish Hall in Whitney Pier on Monday evening to hear about the provincial government's plans to place 30 emergency housing units at a vacant lot in the neighbourhood, with some attendees expressing anger and frustration at the proposal.

The meeting was tense and heated, marked several times by shouting, cursing and threats of violence.

One woman claimed that drug users are being purposefully moved out of downtown Sydney, N.S.

"Citizens have witnessed sexual activities in the open areas of downtown in the middle of the day, people shooting up drugs, fighting, and other types of violence, people being accosted for money and other criminal activity," she said. "The downtown has become a burden."

Another responded, "I'm sorry, but until you've slept outside in –20 degrees, you have no say."

The majority of people who spoke at the meeting say they're concerned about safety in their neighbourhood.

Cheryl Butler-Berkeley grew up in Whitney Pier and said people there are upset by a lack of public consultation on the project.

"Bring something to our community and our community hasn't been in the know, and they're just trying to force it on us — they're going to get some resistance," she said. "Our community is going to push back and they're going to push back hard."

Others raised fears of drug use, alcohol use or prostitution.

Support staff will be on site

The Ally Centre of Sydney and New Dawn Enterprises will co-manage the units, which each contain a bed, heater and desk. Separate buildings will be created for toilets, showers, laundry and administration.

New Dawn CEO Erika Shea said the village's location must meet certain criteria, including accessible food, water and transportation.

Shea was subject to loud jeers from the crowd after suggesting that some of the people at the shelter will be from the community.

There were more than 200 people who attended a community meeting held Monday night at the Ukrainian hall in Whitney Pier. The event was also live streamed for those who could not attend in person.
There were more than 200 people who attended a community meeting held Monday night at the Ukrainian hall in Whitney Pier. The event was also live streamed for those who could not attend in person.

More than 200 people attended a meeting held Monday night at the Ukrainian hall in Whitney Pier. The event was live streamed for those who could not attend in person. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

"We are not going to put people in the woods and we are not going to put people in an industrial park," she said.

"This is about helping people to stabilize and re-integrate into our community. These people are our people, and I would be willing to bet many of them were born and raised in Whitney Pier."

Two people will be on site to help residents who require treatment for addiction, harm reduction services or mental health care.

People living in the shelters will be allowed drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and use cannabis. However, there will be a zero tolerance policy for things such as violence and threats. Officials said Monday they are working on a policy for evicting those who do not comply with the rules.

Premier says questions should be answered

"It's going to create some serious hostility," Butler-Berkeley said following the meeting. "People are not going to like it. It's not going to be pretty if it's put here and then break-ins increase, you know, our children end up playing and picking up needles and getting stuck."

Donald Gauthier, a former Whitney Pier resident, was also critical of the province's handling of the matter.

"The communication model was so poor from day one," he said. "They use the excuse that they don't have to [communicate] it. Well, I'm sorry, that's not what the community is very clearly telling them."

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston says he's heard the outcry from local residents about the location of a proposed shelter village in Whitney Pier.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston says he's heard the outcry from local residents about the location of a proposed shelter village in Whitney Pier.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston says he's heard from local residents about concerns over their safety and security. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston made a surprise appearance at Monday's meeting. After hearing concerns from residents, Houston said he will have further discussions with his team about the selection process that was followed.

"My biggest takeaways were around the site selection process and the concerns of the community for their own security and the security of their family, their kids, their parents and their neighbours," he said.

"The questions around site selections are questions that should be answered. I've undertaken to do that."

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