Halifax not enforcing encampment evictions as deadline day arrives

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Halifax not enforcing encampment evictions as deadline day arrives
Global’s Eilish Bonang speaks to Steve Wilsack, who has been providing support to those living at Grand Parade for the last 101 days, about the Monday deadline for encampment eviction – Feb 26, 2024

Halifax’s deadline for people to leave encampments around the city has arrived, but some residents are staying put as they await adequate shelter.

Earlier this month, the municipality said it will close five of its 11 designated encampment sites, saying “better options now exist,” including a 70-bed shelter that recently opened at the Halifax Forum.

At Grand Parade in downtown Halifax, more than a dozen tents were still standing Monday morning — the day the municipality set as the deadline to leave — with about 20 people remaining.

“Today was a day with the goal that both the province of Nova Scotia and the municipality would be able to ensure that everyone had housing,” said Coun. Pam Lovelace, speaking with Global News at Grand Parade, near city hall.

“Unfortunately, that has not been the case.”

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She said the municipality is not enforcing the eviction deadline Monday as some people have not yet been matched up with the services they need.

Lovelace said the provincial Department of Community Services failed to complete the appropriate paperwork for everyone living in the affected encampment sites.

“I was here late on Friday. People had their belongings packed, they were ready to go, but because of paperwork not being completed at the Department of Community Services, they didn’t get to go,” she said.

“I think that we have a serious issue when it comes to breakdown in process. We’ve got a structure that’s broken, and we need the province to be looking at this issue as an urgent humanitarian issue.”

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She said each individual that goes through the Department of Community Services intake process needs a case number. Without the paperwork done, some are still awaiting their case numbers.

Lovelace also noted that people are always transitioning in and out of encampments, so it can be difficult to keep up with everyone.

While some community organizations attended encampment sites Monday to help residents find new accommodations, Lovelace said “we won’t be down here forcibly moving people out.”

“This was a goalpost, and now we move the goalpost, depending on the level of support that’s needed for each of the individuals that are left,” she said.

A group showed up Monday morning to protest the evictions, but had mostly left by the afternoon. Eilish Bonang/Global News

Department of Community Services spokesperson Christina Deveau said the province’s focus “is to provide options for people experiencing homelessness, so they have a warm, safe place to sleep.”

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“Our team at Community Services (DCS) is meeting daily with HRM, Shelter Nova Scotia, service providers and outreach folks to determine the available options for those sleeping rough in the de-designated encampments,” she said.

“It is important to remember that services are voluntary, and we cannot compel someone to come inside. But we encourage people to take advantage of the services and supports being offered and to come inside to somewhere that is safe and warm, and where they can receive further support.”

Deveau also disputed the paperwork issue, saying there is no paperwork associated with the transition.

“We could not speak to individual cases, but it is possible there is paperwork around rent supplements or for people to get on the By-Name List, the latter of which is external to government,” she said.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage was unavailable to media because he was in Ottawa chairing a Big City Mayors Caucus event.

In a statement, municipal spokesperson Jake Fulton confirmed that nobody was evicted from the five de-designated camping locations Monday.

“The municipality is constantly assessing the need for designated locations,” he said. “As more indoor shelter spaces and supportive housing options become available, more parks will be closed, de-designated and returned to their intended purposes as spaces for everyone.”

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About half a dozen residents remained at the Cobequid ballfield Monday morning. Heidi Petracek/Global News

The Barrington Street green space, Green Road Park, Lower Flinn Park, and the University Avenue green space remain open for people to tent, he said.

Over the weekend, the city said it had so far managed to find shelter for 25 of the 55 people who were sheltering outdoors at the affected encampment sites.

The municipality said the Geary Street green space has been “completely vacated” and is now fenced off so workers can perform remediation work.

“The province, service providers and navigators are discussing appropriate indoor sheltering or transitional housing options with those experiencing homelessness in the remaining locations,” it said.

It said the municipality expects that all those sheltering in the above locations will comply with the notice to vacate.

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“However, if the date passes and not all individuals have vacated, there will be a measured approach where each situation will be looked at on a case-by-case basis,” the statement said.

“The municipality is aware that not all people who are currently sleeping rough in these locations will be able to go to a shelter for a variety of reasons. We are working with the province to help those still sheltering outdoors to find options.”

Residents ‘scared to death’

Steve Wilsack, a volunteer who had been assisting residents at Grand Parade, said Monday morning that people were “scared to death.”

“They do not know where they’re going to go,” he said. “This is a moment of crisis for our province. We need housing first. We need four walls for everyone.”

He said many of the available shelters are full, and even at the ones that aren’t, many unhoused residents do not want to stay there.

“People need to be inside a place where they feel safe. Here, they feel safe,” he said. “People can lock up their valuables, people have a sense of community.”

Tents are seen at Grand Parade Feb. 26, 2024. Eilish Bonang/Global News

Wilsack added that the encampment evictions aren’t going to fix the root problems that led to so many people sleeping outside.

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“The bottom line is, tomorrow there’s going to be tents here. There’s going to be tents all over the province,” he said. “This is a result of the system being broken. This is the result of inaction. … This is the result of no place to go.”

A group of people showed up to Grand Parade Monday morning to show solidarity for unhoused residents and call for an end to the evictions, though most had left by the afternoon.

Krista McNair and Shelby Thompson drove to Halifax from Truro to attend.

“We’re just here showing solidarity and to show support,” McNair said. “Folks in the encampments found community on some of their darkest days here, and we’re here as part of the community to show that we care.”

Thompson said what they want for the encampment residents “isn’t something that could happen overnight.”

“Ultimately, these people need stable, secure, sustainable places to go, and what they’ve made for themselves to be comfortable in the meantime definitely shouldn’t be taken away from them,” she said.

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