‘A sad day’: Power disconnected at Halifax homeless encampments as eviction efforts ramp up

Click to play video: 'Power disconnected at Halifax homeless encampments'
Power disconnected at Halifax homeless encampments
The deadline has arrived for people living in five Halifax encampments to leave, but finding accommodation for those evicted has been a challenge. Heidi Petracek explains how the city's struggle to help the unhoused is representative of a growing problem across Canada, and why not all tent residents want to go to a shelter – Mar 1, 2024

Crews spent Friday morning disconnecting power at two major Halifax-area homeless encampments as part of the municipality’s efforts to clear them out.

Power has been disconnected both at Grand Parade and the Cobequid ballfield — two of the city’s recently de-designated encampment sites.

There were still about 12 people living at Grand Parade in downtown Halifax Friday morning, as temperatures dipped well into the negatives. Work to remove the generator supplying electricity to the site was slowed due to wires being frozen to the ground.

Steve Wilsack, who volunteers at the encampment helping residents with their needs, said it was the “worst possible day to be cutting anyone’s power.”

“It’s a sad day,” he said. “The fact that there’s up to 12 individuals still here and they have no suitable place to go for housing is a great concern.”

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With the power off, Wilsack said he was worried about the impacts of extreme cold on those who remain.

“The safety concerns are grave,” he said. “We have someone here that’s pregnant. We have people that are (in) mental anguish. This will add an additional trigger.”

Earlier this month, the municipality said it would be closing five of its 11 designated encampment sites where unhoused people had been living in tents, saying “better options now exist,” including a 70-bed shelter that recently opened at the Halifax Forum.

Residents awoke Feb. 7 to find eviction notices pinned to their tents, telling them they had to leave by Feb. 26.

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The affected sites are the Geary Park green space, Saunders Park, Victoria Park, Grand Parade, and the Correctional Centre Park in Lower Sackville, also known as the Cobequid Road ballfield.

Click to play video: 'Halifax not enforcing encampment evictions as deadline day arrives'
Halifax not enforcing encampment evictions as deadline day arrives

The deadline for residents to leave the sites came and went Monday, but the city opted to not enforce the evictions, as they were still working to find housing for people.

But earlier this week, the municipality visited those living in Grand Parade, Victoria Park, and the Cobequid ballfield, telling residents to collect their belongings.

The municipality said in a statement Wednesday the province has assured them that “there are enough spaces available in indoor shelters and supportive housing options for everyone in the de-designated locations.”


But Wilsack said that’s “misinformation.” While there may be shelter space available, many people do not want to stay in shelters due to a lack of privacy and security, and fears of being separated from loved ones.

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Moreover, shelters are supposed to be for emergencies, and are not suitable places to live, he said.

“The shelter does have some space, but that’s an emergency shelter only. That is not four walls,” he said. “We’ve had residents time and time again, pleading for a place to go.”

Power has now been disconnected at Grand Parade, where around 12 people, including a pregnant woman, are still living. Neil Benedict/Global News

Wilsack added that there are constantly more people falling into homelessness amid Halifax’s housing crisis, and he wonders what will happen when the emergency shelters do fill up.

He said as people leave the de-designated encampment sites, other encampment sites will continue to fill up.

“We’re playing whack-a-mole. Basically, close one encampment down, they move somewhere else,” he said. “If you’re going to have encampments, at least set it up in a humane fashion … let’s set it up with proper amenities, let’s set it up with power, let’s set it up with staffing.

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“Herding them into a space with 100 other people, that’s not housing.”

‘They can’t stay there’

Max Chauvin, Halifax’s director of housing and homelessness, said Friday that fewer than 20 people now remain in Halifax’s de-designated encampment sites. That number is down from 29 earlier this week and 55 when eviction notices were first handed out.

He said municipal staff are having conversations with the residents about their options to find a new place to stay or store their belongings.

“There are options that they have if they want to go indoors, and also (recognizing) that there are some folks who say, ‘Look, I just feel better outside,'” he said.

“If that’s where somebody is, you have to respect that, but they can’t stay there. So they need to look at going to another designated location, or something like that.”

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

Asked why the city cut power to the encampments on a day where temperatures hovered around -11, with a westerly wind making it feel like -19, Chauvin said residents have known since Feb. 7 that they would have to leave.

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“We told everybody in advance what the day was going to be, and so we moved forward,” he said. “We do have a designated location that has space, that does have power.”

Chauvin said once everyone has moved out, the city will fence off Grand Parade for remediation and cleanup.

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