Pandemic amplified homelessness issue says local family services director


  • <p>A screengrab of Art Fisher of the Family Service Association of Western Nova Scotia presenting to a recent virtual meeting of the standing committee on community services.</p>

The pandemic has amplified the problem of homelessness in the province and brings focus to the divide between sources of funding and what communities are experiencing.

So said Art Fisher, the executive director of a Bridgewater-based youth and family outreach social service charity, the Family Service Association of Western Nova Scotia, during a recent virtual appearance to a provincial all-party community services committee. Fisher assumed the role of myth-buster and realist when addressing MLAs and responding to the lawmakers' questions.

The committee's agenda was titled "housing and COVID-19 and the homelessness crisis."

"From our perspective, the commodification of housing and real estate investment trusts and the unchecked growth of that has caused the crisis, and COVID-19 has made it visible." said Fisher, who talked about the number of youth and adults either without housing or at risk of eviction.

So-called success stories may not show gaps and failures, he suggested.

The current real estate "phenomenon" is not a phenomenon at all but "a deliberate extraction of wealth from our communities," Fisher told the committee. "That extraction of wealth certainly ramped up in our area over the last years as developers bought buildings and are really just interested in buying the building and securing the land, and really are simply interested in creating profitability for investors."

He wants to see community-based affordable housing projects which move to net-zero energy and link youth with potential roads to employment, such as in the trades.

"We incredibly need those youth to build our future," said Fisher.

While a former landmark menswear store was successfully converted into Freeman House, the brakes were put on a development deal earlier this year between the Family Service Association of Western Nova Scotia and the Town of Bridgewater. Had it gone forward, that arrangement would have resulted in the former King Street Gow's Home Furniture building converted into a 32-unit residential complex with ground-floor commercial use. Fisher told LighthouseNOW at the time the proposal was on hold until a new development proposal with more affordable housing capacity could be considered.

"We talk so much about affordable housing, we don't talk as much about the incredible need for supportive housing," Fisher told the committee.

A provincial commission established to examine affordable housing solutions advised the province should spend $25 million right away on housing projects.

There has not been tracking of affordable housing that is disappearing from communities, Fisher said during his closing remarks to the committee, adding commodification of housing translates to lost supportive and affordable housing opportunities.

"The blended value is missing from current recommendations," Fisher said.

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