Making Room for Mental Health

This article appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of the Union Stand.

There is a real lack of affordable housing in Nova Scotia, and that need is being felt acutely in King’s County. A recent study conducted by the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS) shows that there is a need for almost 1,000 units in that community alone.
Laurel Taylor is President of NSGEU Local 49 and Team Lead for Project Hope with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in Kentville. She works with people
“We have people staying in really bad relationships or really … inferior housing that you wouldn’t want to put livestock in, really,” Taylor said.
People with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression may need extra help securing affordable housing because they may be unable to work full-time – or at all – or because they cannot deal with people or other aspects of everyday life, such as bills.
It’s not just homeless people with mental illness that are in need of help with affordable housing, either: it’s the working poor, people who are working multiple jobs and still struggling to afford the basics, like food and rent.
The CMHA was recently approved for a $400,000 Federal grant to increase the number of affordable housing units in the Kings County area. The plan is to use the grant to purchase a local motel and turn it into affordable housing units that could house up to 12 people, and create a safe “community within a community.”
But their plan has hit a snag: the motel is zoned as commercial property, not for multi-residential living, so they need to have the property re-zoned. And not everyone in the community is supportive of the project.
“Sadly, some people in the community believe in affordable housing, but not in their community … and some people, as soon as you hear the word ‘mental health’ they suddenly seem to think that they’re out to kill people, and that’s not the reality of the people we work with every day,” Taylor said.
“The reality is the people that I work with every day are normally victims of crime, rather than perpetrators of crime, so it’s a very skewed view of the people that we want to assist in helping.”
There is a petition circulating against the project, but not all who have signed actually live in the community, and not all have heard CMHA’s perspective. There’s also a lot of misinformation about the project, including that it will be a treatment facility for the mentally ill.
“We don’t want a treatment facility because we don’t offer treatment!” Taylor pointed out, “And if we wanted to do a treatment facility, it’s already zoned for that – that’s the funniest part of it all.”
The CMHA is already an experienced landlord: they already have another small property in another part of the community which houses people with mental health issues, and most people don’t even know that it’s there.
Still, they aren’t giving up. They planned to hold a community meeting in early March to address some of the questions and concerns residents may have, and to hear from the project’s supporters, as well. Taylor also sees this meeting as an opportunity to educate people about mental health in general.
After their community meeting, they will submit a formal proposal to town council and after that, submit a development plan for consideration. If the plan to purchase the motel fails as a result of lack of community support, they will move forward in another location.
“…We’re going to be looking somewhere in the community to have this, because the need is not going away, it is growing.”
Taylor calls the situation “disheartening” and says she feels badly for people who are privately dealing with mental health issues and already living in the community.
“…We do have human rights, and we have the right to live within our community. I also live in Kentville and … I have houses around me that have people that are mentally challenged and mentally ill (living in them) and I think it’s a wonderful community. It’s vibrant and everyone is represented, and I don’t fear when I’m out in my backyard that anything bad is going to happen to me.”

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