The concrete floor wasn’t soft, but it was somewhere out of the chilly night air.
A man who was sleeping rough found his way into a Dartmouth apartment building Saturday night. He hunkered down in a stairwell landing on the top floor with his pillow, walker and cigarettes.
Property manager Ursula Prossegger said she feels terrible for him, but she had concerns about security and fire hazards so she called police when he was discovered Sunday morning.
“He’s a thin, frail-looking older gentleman, and it breaks my heart to push him out but we’re not equipped to house him in our building. And at the end of the day, our clients are our tenants, and they pay, appreciate and expect a certain amount of security, as well,” she said.
“So it’s a very difficult playing field.”
Prossegger said that being a property manager, she is well aware how quickly a fire can start.
“And how fast it can spread and its effect on everybody, and to see this gentleman smoking and stubbing it out — he’s not doing it maliciously, it’s just who he is,” she said, adding that it’s also scary that if there was a fire, no one would know he was in the stairwell.
Police officers escorted him out of the building Sunday morning and left him at the curb, she said. They told her he “just needed a break” and then they left.
Prossegger said she doesn’t blame the police.
“Even if they took him away, where are they going to take him? Like, honestly, where are you going to put him? All the shelters are full so they left him at the curb.”
Const. John MacLeod, spokesman for Halifax Regional Police, confirmed officers responded to the call at about 10 a.m. on Sunday and that the man was escorted off the property without incident.
But Monday, he again settled in for the night in the same spot. In an interview Tuesday, Prossegger said she called the police that morning and got the impression it was up to her to escort him off the property if he wasn’t being aggressive.
He sat on the sidewalk outside the apartment building with his hoodie draped over his walker for a while Tuesday morning.
He told The Chronicle Herald his name was Scott, and that he had been hit by a car in Florida a few months ago. He said he has money to get an apartment but can’t find one. He didn’t say much more than that before leaving the area.
Get on board and work together
Prossegger said there’s a huge lack of services and support for people living rough in the community.
She’s discovered that many tenants with mental health problems can only get help once they’ve been evicted. People have been found sleeping in the building’s garbage dumpsters, she said, and were only discovered when the bins were lifted for emptying. When she’s tried to reach out for help, Prossegger said, she finds the province tends to point a finger at the municipality and vice versa.
“Can we please get on board and work together?” Prossegger said.
More wrap-around supports needed
Shawn Parker, a street navigator in Dartmouth, said there are increasingly more cases like these.
Support workers and service providers are working hard to help everyone in need, but there is only so much they can do, he said.
“A lot of us out here providing the service are doing the best we can at this time. It all boils down to a roof over their heads,” said Parker.
There are waitlists at places for shelters with wrap-around services, where someone who is homeless can find a place to stay while also getting support for health issues and addictions. There are modular units in Dartmouth and Halifax operated by Out of the Cold, and the Overlook, which Parker said will hopefully be open in November.
“We have a lot of folks that are sleeping rough . . . that refuse to go to the shelters for one reason or another. Most of them will tell you they feel safer outside, and then again, the shelters don’t provide that wrap-around service, it’s just a place to lay your head,” said Parker.
More options for wrap-around care and support for homeless people are needed, he said.
When asked if Prossegger thinks she’ll see Scott again, she said “probably.” She said it’s not a rare occurrence for property managers and she expects it will happen more often, especially as winter sets in.