The Barnacle team will be away at sea for the month of July, check back in August for our next print issue!

New Bridgewater Seasonal Overnight Shelter Finds Community Support

(Kristi Tibbo, Executive Director of South Shore Open Doors Association, and Krista Miller, Shelter Manager. Photo contributed. Credit: Amanda Phillips-Poole, SSODA staff)

This winter, for the first time, adults experiencing homelessness on the South Shore can access an overnight shelter in downtown Bridgewater at  St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. The temporary shelter fills a major unmet need in the community. 

Kristi Tibbo, executive director of the South Shore Open Doors Association (SSODA), says people would otherwise be sleeping in their cars, unfinished basements, tents, abandoned sheds, or must travel to Kentville to access shelter.

Now, people who are 19 years and older can stay at the 15-bed seasonal shelter at St. Paul’s from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. and find refuge during the daytime at the nearby Souls Harbour Rescue Mission, which extended its hours to eliminate any gaps in service.

Women and their children escaping domestic violence can continue to seek shelter and support at Harbour House.

SSODA opened in 2021 to facilitate social service access and connect people to available housing in the region. The organization never set out to provide shelter services but was in the best position to fill this critical need when, on October 11, 2023, the Government of Nova Scotia announced funding for shelters across the province, including $1.8 million for three new overnight shelters in Amherst, Bridgewater, and Halifax. 

Tibbo and her team at SSODA quickly hired staff to operate the six-month seasonal shelter at the church, opening their doors on November 15, 2023.

Several weeks in, the shelter averages about eight occupants per night, with beds separated by partitions and meals provided morning and night. It is accessible, heated, and has internet and phone access.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church has also long hosted a community dinner every Wednesday for those facing food insecurity, and since the opening of the shelter, they have also set aside meals for overnight guests.

Tibbo says the church and most of the community have been overwhelmingly supportive. 

“Our phone is ringing many times a day with people asking what they can do and how they can help, whether they are donating proceeds from their holiday parties, businesses donating a portion of sales, or something else,” Tibbo said. “For the most part, folks are very relieved to have this in the community.”

According to SSODA, a large portion of the homeless population in the region is seniors, whether due to the increased cost of living, apartment and/or condo buildings sold, and limitations due to a fixed or no income and limited ability to work. 

“Many of these folks have had housing their entire life and never dreamt that they would have to come up with a new place. Now, they find themselves living in their car,” Tibbo said.

Tibbo adds they will operate a shelter in subsequent winters if the funding and support are still available but, ultimately, it’s a harm-reduction approach and not a long-term solution.

As of right now, there are no answers on where people will stay in the warmer months. “The long-term goal is that we don’t have to offer shelter,” Tibbo said.

“We would be meeting the region’s needs and have all the various forms of affordable housing required to address those needs: micro-living, accessible units, housing for folks receiving mental health and addiction support, and more. We need all levels of government to be working together on this issue with communities. But for now, the interim solution will help keep people safe and alive through the winter, and we’re very grateful our community has been supportive of that.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *