Dereliction of Duty

The discovery of human remains in the derelict train station on Dodd Street in Sydney is a horrifying development in the debate about the building’s future that began in council this summer.

But more importantly, it’s an indictment of our failure, as a community, to provide for the most vulnerable among us — and I include myself in that indictment, because I am guilty of writing about the old train station as a danger and an eyesore while missing the big picture: people were sheltering in that dangerous eyesore.

Const. Gary Fraser of the Cape Breton Regional Police Services told the CBC’s Tom Ayers there was evidence of people squatting in the building:

“It appears they may have been sleeping there overnight at some time,” Fraser said. “There’s bedding, clothing and food up there.”

Fraser said it’s not a surprise that people are moving indoors, with the weather getting colder and the homeless shelter full.

The homeless shelter is full.

And even were there space in the shelter, people are still at loose ends during the long, cold days, when the shelters are closed.

The answer, as Dolores Campbell wrote in these pages in 2017, is not temporary shelter but permanent shelter. And permanent shelter means affordable shelter, which, as the Spectator reported that same year, is in short supply in the CBRM, particularly for single, non-senior adults.

A 2016 study conducted by the Cape Breton Community Housing Association in cooperation with organizations like Every Woman’s Centre, Public Health, Cape Breton Regional Police Service, Cape Breton University and the Community Advisory Board on Homelessness identified 304 people experiencing homelessness in the municipality. Their chief barrier to finding permanent housing?

Poor housing options/low income.

Neither of those problems is insoluble but we had trouble, as a municipality (and a province), organizing the installation of portable toilets to help the homeless in the CBRM, so forgive me if I worry we won’t be up to the task.

Over the days to come, we will hear from people who understand the problem best and have thoughts on how we can solve it.

I really hope we listen to them.