The Halifax Regional Council mobile shower pilot project began as a well-intentioned idea to provide hygiene for homeless people.
A six-cab shower trailer was set up in a field in Dartmouth, ready for use, last November.
But during the month it was open, it was never used.
A new report written by Jo Parker, coordinator of the Mainline Needle Exchange program in Halifax, examines the reasons for the failure of the project and makes recommendations for making such a service more accessible to the population it is intended to serve.
The project ended early
The project was approved in September 2021 and was expected to last nine weeks at a cost of $16,999.
The shower trailer was open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from November 1 to November 30.
The project was undertaken in conjunction with Mainline Needle Exchange, and the shower was made up of peers and employees of the organization. Security was provided by a private company.
Shower supplies and towels were provided, and staff had cleaning equipment to sanitize the showers after each use. Mainline Needle Exchange undertook community outreach activities and distributed flyers to inform people about the service.
But it wasn’t that simple. The showers were closed for more than two weeks because they were not used.
Jeff Karabanow was not involved in the project, but he is director of the community clinic at the Dalhousie School of Social Work and studies homeless populations.
He said that for a project like this to work, the voices of people from the most affected group must be included from the start.
“They’re going through that experience, and they’re having very thoughtful, eloquent experiences about what they need and what kind of support would work, where they’ll work and what kind of resources are most important to help them survive the roaming. .”
Customers consulted for comments
Ten customers were interviewed by Mainline after the pilot ended and raised four main issues.
Most people said the location was inconvenient and not easy to get to without transportation. Another problem was the weather. By the time the shower opened it was cold outside and people preferred to stay in their tents or shelters.
“Resources tend to be best used when they’re extremely accessible and they’re in the world of people who are going to use them,” Karabanow said.
The lack of privacy was also mentioned. The fact that the shower trailer was in a field, clearly visible from the road and nearby buildings was noted as a concern.
Mainline customers also said they had other options for bathing that were more accessible than the Dartmouth location, such as using a shower at a friend’s house or using the sink in a public restroom.
Mainnet staff were also consulted for the report and raised two additional issues regarding the project.
The first was the stand-alone nature of the showers. They were isolated from other needed services and supports.
Staff also said there was not enough time to publicize the showers as there was no fixed opening date. Problems with securing a pitch and getting the shower to work delayed the opening by a month.
The report made suggestions on how such a project could be improved in the future, starting with the idea that a shower should be housed in a brick and mortar building that also provides other supports and services. . Some of those consulted said they used the showers at the Adsum House/Out Of The Cold Community Organization on Gottingen Street for this reason.
Other recommendations included running the project during the warmer months, in a location close to where the homeless are staying. If this is not possible, the report suggests providing transportation such as a shuttle service or a dedicated bus pass.
The report’s final recommendation was that while the project was well-intentioned, greater community engagement is needed in such a process.
Karabanow said that while a project of this nature is only a “band-aid” solution and does not alleviate the need for safe and stable housing, it could be tried again.
“I think some of the recommendations are extremely thoughtful,” he said of the report. “You know, add [the shower service] to existing resources, make it much, much more accessible, make it more secure, and then sort of revive it. »