Protesters call on N.L. to declare housing emergency as homeless population grows

Around 50 people gathered on the steps of Confederation Building Monday to call on the provincial government to take housing and homelessness seriously — shortly after government announced a five-point plan protesters say isn't enough.

NDP criticize Liberals for waiting for House to open before announcing plan

A group of people stand on the steps of a large building. Many are staring at a group of three people standing on a lower deck, huddled under a golf umbrella.
Protesters and politicians gathered on the steps of Confederation Building on Monday, protesting the state of housing in the province. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

About 50 people gathered on the rain-soaked steps of Confederation Building on Monday to call on the provincial government to take more drastic solutions to address housing and homelessness in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Leigh Bursey, a housing professional with lived experience of homelessness and the protest's MC, said more needs to be done to help fight homelessness and the need for housing in the province.

He called on the province to declare a housing and homelessness emergency, which he says would allow additional funding to be unlocked to help housing services, new builds and resource groups.

"What we're now seeing are people who need chronic supports being pushed away from those chronic supports, because those [who] used to be considered middle class are now in need of the same supports," Bursey said.

"It's going to be the government's purse that's going to make the difference, and it's got to be a strategic objective."

A man with a buzz cut and red beard stands in front of a parking lot.
Leigh Bursey was part of the protesters calling on government to take action against rising levels of homelessness. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Some of the protesters included residents of the tent encampment across the street from the provincial legislature. The encampment is entering its third week on Prince Phillip Drive, occupied by people who are homeless and looking for a place to live.

Robert Osmond, who has been homeless for five months, told the crowd government needs to move beyond what he called empty promises.

"All we ask for is a place. We're not asking for money, we're not looking for anything else. We're looking for a home, a place we can lay down," Osmond told the crowd, soaked from the pouring rain. "A place we can feel safe."

'We need action'

Monday's protest came on the same day as the beginning of the fall session of the House of Assembly — and less than an hour after the provincial government announced a five-point plan to improve the availability of affordable housing.

The plan includes removing GST and HST on new builds, using provincial government-owned land to build and convert existing buildings into purpose-built housing and more.

Both PC Leader Tony Wakeham and NDP Leader Jim Dinn spoke at the protest, saying they'll continue to press the government for more resources and legislation that will get people into homes.

"They are not over there because they're on holiday," Dinn said, referring to people in the encampment. "They are over there because there is no options left to them."

He added he believes it's a shame that the government waited until the opening of the House for an announcement on affordable housing.

Wakeham cited affordable housing as a key social determinant of health and said it's something the province needs to take seriously.

"If the government is serious about implementing the Health Accord, then let's get started. There are enough reports done. We need no more reports, we need action," Wakeham said.

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With files from Heather Gillis