P.E.I.'s minister of social development and housing says more transitional housing beds will soon be available for Islanders in need.
Ernie Hudson said nine transitional housing beds at Smith Lodge in Charlottetown are set to open by the end of the year. He said the plan is to expand that to 20 beds by the spring of next year.
Smith Lodge was initially planned to open this summer as a 28-bed transitional housing facility, offering transitional housing to men, women and children. Hudson said the pandemic caused delays for the opening.
"If we weren't in the middle of a pandemic or had experienced the pandemic, yes we would have been in a position this fall for 20 transitional beds or units at Smith Lodge," Hudson said.
Hudson said the nine beds set to open by the end of this year will be available only to men. He said when the facility eventually opens all 20 beds, half will be allocated for men and the other will be reserved for women.
He said the government has also finalized an agreement to provide funding to support three emergency and transitional housing options for Islanders in need of shelter, including Bedford MacDonald House, the Community Outreach Centre and the opening of Smith Lodge.
He said government will provide the Salvation Army with $3.7 million over the next three years to operate these programs.
'Last place to turn'
Hudson announced the opening of the new beds while responding to questions from Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly in the legislature Tuesday.
McNeilly also questioned the minister about how many shelter beds are currently available to Islanders in need of a place to sleep for the night.
"Today we woke up to strong winds and colder weather. I couldn't imagine having no place to go at this time," McNeilly said.
Hudson said there were nine beds available at Bedford MacDonald House in Charlottetown and another six at Deacon House, which provides overnight shelter for men over 19 who struggle with addictions issues.
Today we woke up to strong winds and colder weather. I couldn't imagine having no place to go at this time. - MLA Gord McNeilly
McNeilly also asked why Bedford MacDonald House had only nine beds available, when the capacity is normally 12. Hudson said the number of beds there had to be adjusted for the time being to adhere to public health protocols associated with COVID-19.
(However, on Wednesday, Hudson stood in the legislature to correct himself, stating there are actually 10 beds at Bedford MacDonald House and two emergency beds on the main floor for a total of 12 beds.)
Why not 24 hours a day?
McNeilly also said he's hearing concerns from Islanders about the fact that the shelter is not open 24 hours a day.
"In many cases these shelters, aside from providing essential services, are the last place someone can turn to before being left out completely in the cold," McNeilly said.
"What assurances can you provide Islanders who are worried that the shelter may be limited in the weeks and months to come?"
Hudson said the Community Outreach Centre, located at the Smith Lodge, is open to Islanders in need of a place to go when Bedford MacDonald House is closed.
Deacon House not closing
McNeilly also said he's hearing concerns from Islanders who fear Deacon House may be closing.
Speaking with reporters, Minister of Health and Wellness James Aylward, whose department is responsible for the facility, said the province doesn't plan to close Deacon House.
"At some point, it will be replaced with a newer facility," Aylward said. "But at this point in time, there's absolutely no plan to close Deacon House."
He said the facility is currently operating at its capacity with six beds. He said the province will eventually replace the building as part of the construction of the new mental health campus, and at that time, those beds will be made available at another location.
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