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Membertou man says outpouring of support was touching

Shane Paul says he was amazed by the outpouring of support from the community. SaltWire Network
Shane Paul says he was amazed by the outpouring of support from the community. SaltWire Network

Shane Paul is no longer tenting outside the Membertou band office, in fact the 44-year-old says within 24 hours he had an offer of a house from community leadership. Although, he declined the offer, due to safety issues.

“First and foremost, I am a father and I want my kids to be safe,” said Paul.

He says despite declining the housing offer, the community was gracious enough to set him up with a room at the Travelodge hotel on Kings Road in Sydney.

Paul set up the tent on Aug. 7 demanding the community address the homelessness problem and hire community members first. By Saturday, he was offered a home, but still camped out until Sunday to raise awareness for homelessness in the community.

Chief Terry Paul of Membertou First Nation said his team is committed to addressing the housing issues in Membertou and says about 16 to 20 families move into new homes annually.

“We do our best to accommodate our community members' housing requests. Our approach is to provide housing for those in greatest need, with a goal of having a safe space for everyone,” said the chief, in an email statement.

Shane Paul says the people he knows facing homelessness may be too embarrassed to ask for help or like himself, are struggling with mental illness. After he lost his job and separated from his wife, he struggled with depression. That left him feeling like no one cared.

“You start acting like people don’t care, you feel like your community has turned their back on you and for a long time I thought that,” said Paul.

But after his recent demonstration, he knows Membertou residents really care about him. They brought him tea and coffee, food and cigarettes and many showed their support by honking their horns or telling him about their own family members' situations.

“Community support was just unbelievable,” said Paul.

Paul said he’s taking steps to try and help himself. He has plans to enroll in the adult learning program at Nova Scotia Community College to obtain his high school equivalency and he hopes it leads to employment. He knows he may be at a disadvantage because all his work experience is in construction and heavy equipment operations, but he just wants a chance.

And he also wants a chance for the others not speaking up.

Paul said he decided to camp out to shine a light on the plight of the homeless and he believes there are at least seven others with similar stories. He thinks employment is certainly key to changing their fortunes. He knows some may lack the skills but he hopes business owners take a chance and hire them anyway, enabling them to learn on the job.

“Once they have (experience) they could be your best asset,” said Paul, adding that’s largely how he learned his craft from caring mentors that took the time to teach.

Paul said the Membertou Men’s Society is still making plans to support single men struggling to stay in the community. In the meantime, he’s going to try and stay positive and hopes the others reach out for help too.

“I put out a cry for help and it came,” said Paul.


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About the author
Oscar Baker III, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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