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Whitney Pier meeting on shelter village draws more than 200 people

Lisa House, Kathy Coombs and Kim Sheppard-Campbell were among the organizers of a community meeting in Whitney Pier last night. (Holly Conners/CBC - image credit)
Lisa House, Kathy Coombs and Kim Sheppard-Campbell were among the organizers of a community meeting in Whitney Pier last night. (Holly Conners/CBC - image credit)

More than 200 people attended a community meeting in Whitney Pier on Tuesday night to discuss a planned shelter village on Henry Street.

The provincial government plans to place 30 units of temporary housing in a vacant lot.

Reporters were not allowed to attend the meeting.

"We have lots of questions, no answers," Kim Sheppard-Campbell, one of the organizers, said following the meeting.

Sheppard-Campbell said security is the main concern.

"People are living in their homes with children," Sheppard-Campbell said. "We have daycares and schools that walk their children on the heritage trail."

Gil MacMullin, who lives about a block from the shelter village site, said his fears are based on the illicit activity he says his 9-year-old daughter has witnessed while attending a cheer program near the Ally Centre in downtown Sydney.

"It's really hard for children to comprehend what's going on," he said. "So to put that in their backyard, and not even a kilometre away from the school, it's just terrifying."

Former Sydney Steel parking lot in Whitney Pier, N.S., where 30 temporary sleeping units for people who are homeless are to be erected.
Former Sydney Steel parking lot in Whitney Pier, N.S., where 30 temporary sleeping units for people who are homeless are to be erected.

Thirty temporary sleeping units are to be erected in this vacant lot at the end of Henry Street. ( Holly Conners/CBC )

The goal of the meeting was to compile the community's questions before another meeting planned for Feb, 5. That meeting will have the Department of Community Services, New Dawn and the Ally Centre in attendance.

"We want our questions answered," said Sheppard-Campbell. "But we don't want to get there and have everybody asking the same questions."

But it's more than answers the community will be looking for.

"We want them to come up with a better solution," she said. "We do not want it down at the bottom of Henry Street."

Erika Shea, the president and CEO of New Dawn, hopes the discussion will help make the chosen site acceptable to all.

She hopes the community can work together "to make this particular Pallet shelter village one of the safest and most successful in the country."

The Ally Centre, headed by executive director Christine Porter, and New Dawn, headed by CEO Erika Shea, will manage the Sydney shelter village for the Province.
The Ally Centre, headed by executive director Christine Porter, and New Dawn, headed by CEO Erika Shea, will manage the Sydney shelter village for the Province.

The Ally Centre, headed by executive director Christine Porter, and New Dawn, headed by CEO Erika Shea, will manage the shelter village for the province. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

It is estimated there are 325 people in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality who are homeless.

"I understand that so much about this is scary and uncomfortable because, as a community, we've not seen this level of homelessness and mental health and addictions crises before," said Shea.

Ally Centre executive director Christine Porter has said the 30 shelters coming to the area are only a "drop in the bucket" in dealing with the area's homelessness problem.

The Department of Community services has said it intends to proceed with the chosen location.