After Fiona: State-sponsored Capitalism on Steroids, Part II

In this post, I’m looking at what happened in Nova Scotia — in the governmental, the not-for-profit, the charitable and community sectors in the wake of Hurricane Fiona. 

Homelessness & lack of shelters

First let’s look at the homeless:  as recently as Sept. 20, AHANS (the Affordable Housing Association of NS) posted that there were 686 people currently experiencing homelessness in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).  Among them are the people who stay in tents for shelter in city parks.  We heard last Friday that a bus was going to pick up those in tents and drive them to one centre in North Dartmouth, or one in Lower Sackville.  Both shelters together could accommodate  a maximum of 75 people. Once there, those in need could presumably sleep on the floors.  Maybe there were mats, or maybe there were cots.  No matter, we heard that the accommodation was for one or two  nights only.  

What do you think happened to the homeless who stayed — at least for a while — in hotel rooms during last winter, courtesy of the provincial government? My guess is that now in the peak of the tourist season, hotels and motels don’t need or want the bookings from Social Services.  The hotels can rent out rooms at more than $200 a night.  Why rent hotel rooms to Social Services clients, who may be people at risk, the homeless and those living “rough”, for a measly $100 to $150?  At this time of year, most Halifax hotels easily charge more than $200. 

I checked today to find out the cost of a one night stay from tomorrow, Sept 30- Oct 1 for a single person.  Here’s what I found: 

   In Halifax: 

Four Points Sheraton$719
Best Western Chocolate Lake$249
Courtyard by Marriott $289
Comfort Inn, Bedford$269
In Dartmouth:
Hampton Inn and Suites$254
DoubleTree by Hilton$293

I also get the impression that the hotels made a deal with Social Services.  In the dead of winter, from January to April when tourism is almost non-existent, the hotels are willing to allocate rooms to the homeless and the hard-to-house because $100-$150 a night helps keeps the hotels’ lights on. But in the fall (now) and next spring and summer – the hotels are not very interested. I have to revise that: Campbell McClintock, a street outreach worker at Out of The Cold, noted that even when a hotel room did become available during Fiona, 88 people were already on the list for that room. 

Calais Pier (1803) by JMW Turner (English 1775-1851). Wikimedia Commons: this painting is at the National Gallery, London UK. Hurricanes decreased by 75% during a cooling period in the late 1600s, for more read this.

The handful of overnight shelters run by charities in Halifax were likely filled to capacity. The the Catholic Church stepped up to keep their one-room units open this fall and winter.  Twenty heated shelters on church property were built as of last January.  The church raised money to pay the $11,000 cost for each emergency shelter building.  Each is suitable for a single occupant, however there is no kitchen or indoor bathroom.  The church hoped that the shelters would no longer be necessary after last summer — but they are keeping them open as there is still a housing emergency

Where is the province in all this? Well a 25-bed shelter at the Brunswick Street Mission is set to close Friday, September 30 since the province has refused to commit to its ongoing funding.

Aside from hand-wringing about the weather forecast, the powers that be (all levels of government) urged us to stock up on batteries, bottled water and even buy a generator while we’re out shopping (median price $1500). It was also reported that 44 pallets of generators were sold out in a day at one hardware store.  

But  no government has rolled up its sleeves to help the homeless or anyone else in need.  This week, many seniors, the disabled and others who live in apartments could not get in and out of  their buildings because the elevators did not work.  One person told me there was no emergency lighting in her apartment’s long hallways.  Another told me there was only partial light during the daytime – from a skylight — in her building’s  stairwell.  Children could not attend  school because there was no electricity.  So parents once again had to figure out how to get to work and provide child care. 

Trudeau’s pious prattle

Trudeau’s pious prattle about sending 600 members of the armed forces to the region was absurd.  Six hundred divided by four provinces amounts to 150 personnel dispatched to each province to remove trees, clear debris and assist in relocating or rescuing people whose homes were hit hard by the hurricane. That seems like too little, too late.

The CBC radio studios in Halifax shut down for most of Saturday during the storm.  Someone said there was water a foot deep in the huge mall parking lot in front of the studios.  The volume of water, and high winds must have presented a danger to our national broadcaster. The news, the weather and the endless loop of catastrophe reporting came to us from Moncton, and later, Fredericton NB.  If Nova Scotians can’t rely on the CBC in a hurricane who can we rely on for information?

After the Storm, 1917 by Tom Thomson (Canadian). For more on Thomson read this.

NS’s  Emergency Management Services (and its boss the Hon. John Lohr) posted a media release which is awash with do’s and don’ts  about what to do during a hurricane.  Basically Minister Lohr’s advice was to “monitor” conditions, stay out of campgrounds, and check on elderly neighbours. 

Halifax’s Emergency Preparedness site is equally dismal. It says each family should have an emergency kit which should include food that will not spoil, 2 litres of bottled water per day per person, 1 litre per day per pet, a first aid kit, and extra keys to your house and car. 

There are no emergency contacts or phone numbers. Any numbers on the sites remain unanswered or answered by a recording. Just great service.

Hurricanes and serious tropical storms happen every Fall in the Atlantic region. Somehow it’s dumped on us that it’s our individual responsibility to take care of ourselves and make a plan for it.  All levels of governments knew days in advance that the storm was coming. Yet:

  • People waited hours in lines at gas stations only to be told the gasoline had run out. So many didn’t have enough gas to drive home.  
  • The governments never bothered to create a vulnerable persons’ list which would indicate which senior or disabled persons needed to be checked on, or helped. Never mind the fact that no one on the government payroll was in charge of giving help to vulnerable people.
  • There was no daily briefing before or after the storm by political and/or health officials — as there was every day by the Premier and Medical Officer of Health Dr Strang during the height of the Covid-19 crisis .
  • There was no information about which shelters were open, where meals were available, or how to find a safe place to stay. 
  • The next crisis will be what to do with all the garbage — the tonnes of formerly frozen and refrigerated food ditched after a couple of days with no electricity.  And what to do with the thousands of downed trees, branches and debris caused by Fiona.
  • Today, Thursday, at supper time, there are still nearly 69,000 NS customers with no power

Hurricane Fiona– our storm, our personal responsibility

So surviving major storms and outages are our responsibility — from little kids, to parents, to seniors, to the less than able, to homeless, to powerless. It’s on us. I just heard a CBC radio host talk about the “community awareness” and “generosity” of people in Mi’kmaq communities who shared food and shared their generators. That is admirable.  And there was more talk about the spirit of community, about the work of charities. So it comes down to all of us — just to hang on.   

There was precious little preparation or coordination of assistance by the province, the municipality or the feds.   Everything is in private hands — either the private sector provided, and always for a price, or charities did what they could. Governments’ mania for not spending money, cost cutting and reducing services while ensuring that the wealthy continue to make out like bandits came into clear focus during Fiona.  

As Tom Rose, the Mayor of Stephenville, NF said, “If we don’t take care of the planet the planet will take care of us”.  Certainly our governments will not.  

Featured image: Hurricane Before Saint-Malo, France, by Eugene Isabey (French, 1803-1886). The painting is at The Cooper Gallery, Barnsley UK.

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