Three community-based organizations serving criminalized people in Nova Scotia have developed and launched a pilot housing project to support people exiting jail during the global pandemic Covid-19.
(HALIFAX) May 12, 2020 – A collaborative interagency supportive housing project has been established by the John Howard Society of Nova Scotia, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia and Coverdale Courtwork Society to safely house up to 20 people exiting jail during the provincial state of emergency. JEC, a name which reflects the first letters of each organization, exists to support persons exiting jail who are experiencing homelessness and works to ensure a positive release and successful reintegration for these individuals by designing comprehensive interventions based on a continuity of care.
This project is utilizing two hotel spaces which allow for social distancing and self-isolation and is resourced and staffed by a dynamic team comprised of social workers, counsellors, lawyers and expert community workers that provide onsite support and wrap around services which respond to the immediate and long-term needs of clients.
The Provincial Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice Williams, sat through the entire March 21st weekend and on Easter Monday, and heard every non-contested bail application brought forward by Crown and Defense. Chief Justice Williams supported bail plans for over 100 accused within the first few days of the state of emergency. In the first weekend alone more than 40 prisoners were released on bail. Chief Justice Williams heard all these matters remotely and the lawyers worked closely with community supports to develop release plans to help prisoners to re-integrate into the community. Of those individuals being released, some had immune disorders, some were elderly, and some had very severe asthma. Unfortunately, we do not currently have processes or systems to support these individuals being released and we have relied on under-resourced and under-funded community organizations to do the bulk of the supportive emergency re- entry work.
Thus, these urgent releases to community, despite being innovative and exciting, have also shone a light on the significant gaps in resources and programs within our communities to adequately address the needs of this growing population of re-integrating prisoners. As such, three community organizations that serve people involved in the criminal justice system in Nova Scotia came together and developed a comprehensive project proposal that would aim to safely house and support up to 20 men, women, trans and non-binary individuals. This project has since been funded by the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS) through Reaching Home, a Federal homelessness fund aimed at resourcing community housing projects.
“The JEC housing initiative provides an opportunity to house criminalized men and women in the community – thus reducing the burden on correctional facilities during the pandemic. We also believe that JEC will demonstrate that with appropriate supports, many men and women who would previously have been held on remand can be safely supported in community. Again, this approach reduces the burden on our justice and correctional systems and encourages active community integration and transformation among criminalized persons. We hope to be able to build on this emergency project to develop long term transitional and bail housing in Nova Scotia.” -Leisha Seymour
“The criminal justice system is closely linked to homelessness. Prisoners in Nova Scotia often end up experiencing homelessness following release from prison and jail, due to lack of access to housing, employment and health-based supports. Correspondingly, countless people experiencing homelessness are criminalized due to mental health and substance use issues and higher surveillance by police. These two experiences create what is known as a revolving door, whereby people cycle in and out of homelessness and incarceration. It takes significant coordination and an abundance of resources to ensure that the immediate needs of people exiting jail are met. The JEC housing project has responded to a very alarming gap in services that has long existed but which has been exacerbated during this global pandemic.” -Ashley Avery
Congratulations on developing a comprehensive housing program to address the needs of people leaving prison. This approach needs to be applied to help all people experiencing homelessness.