Cape Breton non-profit challenges leaders to sleep in a tent and experience homelessness

Rising costs and a lack of affordable housing are sending more people to the streets in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, according to some non-profit groups that work with people in need.

Patti McDonald, the executive director of Town House, a non-profit that offers services to improve the lives of people in Glace Bay, N.S., is asking the public to take part in the “Wake-up Challenge.”

“We’re going to challenge people to make a donation and spend a night in a tent, rough, or in a car,” said McDonald.

The challenge comes after a heated municipal council meeting on Friday.

In an in-camera meeting Tuesday, council narrowly voted to effectively send Rapid Housing Initiative money back to Ottawa amid concerns that project proposals didn’t meet necessary criteria.

That decision caused pushback from the public.

“I absolutely think all of them should resign,” said Erika Shea, the president and CEO of New Dawn Enterprises, a community development corporation in Sydney. “They have failed the community.”

But the municipality will now take more time to work with applicants and federal officials before anything is decided on the $5 million in funding.

Some people who attended Friday’s meeting are homeless and were frustrated they could not give input on the process.

“I’m so disappointed they didn’t get a say,” said Janet Bickerton, the health services coordinator of Ally Centre Cape Breton — a non-profit dedicated to preventing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C in the community. “This is what you call public engagement. They didn’t get a chance to say anything. No one did.”

In a news release, Acting Municipal Affairs Minister Colton LeBlanc said he was disappointed by the council’s decision and is working to try to keep the money in the municipality.

Hoping the project will go ahead, McDonald says it’s important to keep the issue at the forefront for the time being.

“We really want to put that challenge out there because this isn’t to pretend people are homeless or anything like that, but the whole point of the wake-up is, if you are a leader in the community, wake up to the experience others are having,” said McDonald.

She said the plan is to have the tent set up for the night of March 31.

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