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Yet another NGO forced to pull plug on program providing emergency shelter in hotels

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Coverdale Courtwork Society has announced that it will no longer be able to pay for hotel rooms for criminalized women and trans individuals who are exiting jails or who face homelessness for other reasons.

That makes Coverdale yet another NGO which is no longer able to provide this crucial service to the population it serves. Just two days ago we reported that economic realities and a lack of provincial support were forcing Adsum for Women and Children to make a similar decision.

“We get calls on a daily basis from people trying to find housing for women who are in custody. We have been doing our best, but we’ve spent $15,000 on hotel rooms since December, and we had to pull the plug on it. We just don’t have the money and the resources,” says Ashley Avery, executive director of Coverdale.

The non-profit organization is based in Halifax and supports women and gender-diverse people who are involved, or at risk of becoming involved, in the criminal justice system. 

“These are individuals who don’t have housing available to them, and who otherwise would rely on the shelter system. Housing is the key barrier to them being released,” says Avery.

So what will happen if the people Coverdale deals with can’t find a place?

“When we have to turn people away, they either stay in jail, which is the worst case scenario, or they’re sleeping outside, or they are forced into unsafe situations,” Avery says. 

Until recently Coverdale was never this closely involved in dealing with housing issues, but that has changed quickly. 

“Lack of housing has become such a pervasive issue that as an agency we’re forced into responding to it. It used to be that housing was something that other organizations and agencies were able to respond to, and then we would do the other pieces. Even with the opening of Caitlin’s place and its six beds, there’s just such a greater need beyond that,” says Avery.

Most of the people that we’re supporting are on court-ordered conditions, many are on house arrest and curfews and things like that. So when we talk about how the province needs to respond to this, we’re not just talking about the housing sector, we’re talking about Justice and Community Services. We’re really talking about a fully integrated response that needs to come from all of the departments,” she says.

Such a response needs to be tailored to the needs of people who have been criminalized, Avery cautions. She mentions the shelter system, where some organizations’ policies discriminate against criminalized individuals as an example of how not to respond. 

“I know of a client who was kicked out of a shelter because of pending criminal charges, and that woman is now sleeping outside in a tent with her animals, and there’s nowhere to go for her,” Avery says.

“That’s certainly not an isolated case, and it really shows how important it is to have a strategy specific to the criminalized population, because their experiences are so vastly different,” says Avery. 

“Simply creating more shelter beds isn’t the answer, we need supportive transitional housing for criminalized people, for people who have been in jail for and people who are out on bail.”

Meanwhile, much like in our earlier Adsum story, the province is notably absent in all of this.

“All of the money that we have been using to support this population has been coming from the federal government, and I just think that’s unacceptable,” says Avery. 

“We should have stronger provincial government support altogether, and certainly around housing, now that the shelter system is at capacity. Especially for the population of criminalized women who really do fall through the cracks.”  

Here’s how you can support the Coverdale Courtwork Society.

See also: See also: Adsum for Women and Children: Program offering hotel rooms as emergency shelter no longer fully sustainable

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