MacKay seems committed to tackling P.E.I. homelessness issue

ANDY WALKER Andy Walker is a P.E.I.-based political commentator and freelance writer. His column appears each week in the Journal Pioneer.



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7As the temperature began to drop in mid-November, the issue of homelessness began to take center stage in the legislature. It is one of those issues where everybody agrees something needs to be done to improve the situation and that one person living on the street is one too many. However, it is also a problem that defies an easy fix. The opposition Green Party has mentioned several times this session the government's attitude towards the homeless has changed in the recent months and they give the credit to a change in housing ministers. While realizing the enormity of the task, I think it is fair to say Matthew MacKay has committed to making a significant difference on this front. After taking over the portfolio from Rustico-Emerald MLA Brad Trivers in a cabinet shuffle earlier this year, MacKay committed to finding a more permanent solution to the tent city that was set up in downtown Charlottetown throughout the summer and fall. The province purchased mobile housing units at a cost of $1.3 million and placed them at the former COVID-19 testing site on Park Street. The units were originally supposed to be operational by midNovember, but that date has been pushed back to the end of the month. MacKay agreed with the Charlottetown-Victoria Park MLA and Green housing critic Karla Bernard that a more permanent solution is needed. He told the legislature of a recent visit to Shepherds of Good Hope in Ottawa. That shelter operates 24 hours a day and clients have their own space and can safely secure their possessions. In addition to providing a more homelike atmosphere, MacKay said the Ottawa facility offers a host of services including employment and financial counseling, a safe injection site and addictions counseling. That is the direction the new minister wants to move, and he has set an ambitious time frame of one year. MacKay said having 24-hour access has long been a goal of many non-governmental organizations in the province and he wants to work with them to make it a reality. The Park Street site will only be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., meaning those who spent the night have to leave the next morning and line up in the evening to try and secure their space again. MacKay said the to-do list for establishing the shelter includes finding partners who will oversee the operation and provide services, as well as finding a building. Both tasks will be challenging. Establishing such a facility will definitely not mean that homelessness is "solved" in Canada's smallest province. Quite the contrary. As the province with the highest inflation rate and the lowest wages, Islanders are especially vulnerable to rising rental and interest rates. Many Islanders are now finding themselves making tough decisions everyday whether they can make their rent or mortgage this month and what areas they have to cut back in order do it. MacKay tabled legislation the first day of the fall sitting to roll back the 10.8 per cent increase for heated units that the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission approved earlier this year to zero. A new Residential Tenancy Act now before the legislature will cap rents at three per cent starting in 2024, with a landlord having the option of stating their case for up to an additional three per cent. The legislation adopts a long held Green Party position that housing is a basic human right. While that is a step in the right direction, it requires a lot of work to make that a reality.