Charity opens drop-in site to help homeless, home insecure

BRIDGEWATER - At the corner of King Street and Dominion Street, the John Howard Society of Nova Scotia has opened Cedar Place, a drop-in centre serving the needs of homeless or home insecure people, an effort to close any gaps in such support in Lunenburg County.

Cedar Place is free to attend and offers accessible laundry and shower facilities, coffee and tea, snacks, personal care items, secure areas for belongings, computer use, television and lounge area links to additional services and educational opportunities.

The site, the former Rofihe's menswear store, opened on Feb. 5. It's available to people Monday to Friday, between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m.

"It's a place in the winter to be warm and comfortable and to obtain and receive support and connections," Leisha Seymour, the society's executive director, said in a phone interview.

The building also has three apartment units, which are being used for independent and transitional housing purposes.

The society, a Canadian charity providing rehabilitative and reintegrative services to people released from incarceration, among other programs and advocacy, bought the property in July 2023 from Family Service Association of Western Nova Scotia, a Lunenburg County-based charity, for $800,000.

Prior to the sale, the association had converted the 500 square metre site into housing units.

In September 2023, civic politicians in town granted the society full tax exemption as long as the site remains a drop in centre and a location for transition housing.

"We have a long-standing relationship with the (association), so I was aware of the building throughout its renovation and we were very fortunate to be able to acquire it and use it in a way that was representative of their vision," Seymour said.

The site is staffed with four permanent positions, including a program manager, and more hires are expected. Nova Scotia's Department of Community Services is a funding partner.

The society "is really invested in making communities safer and more welcoming," Seymour added, "and we take that responsibility very seriously and it's the work of the organization and something we excel at."

In the early days of Cedar Place's opening, the society continues raising awareness about the service and working with community partners, she said.

"I think there will be some growth in the services that we offer over time as become more aware of what the specific needs of the community are," Seymour added. "But, in terms of using (the Cedar Place location) as a general drop-in and connection site, that's the planned purpose."

"We know there are a number of people who need the support to live healthy and meaningful lives and it's our privilege to do that and it's important to us."

Seymour declined to say if the society is the potential buyer of the former Gow's Home Furniture building at 641 King St., the neighbouring address to Cedar Place.

Online property records indicates a pending $735,000 sale of the 1,400 sq. m site, currently owned by the Family Service Association of Western Nova Scotia. The sale has been pending since the summer of 2023.

The association planned a 68-unit mixed-use concept for the building but complications related to taxation and finances resulted in the project not going ahead and the property going on the real estate market.

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