‘Discriminating against the poor’: Woman at Halifax encampment site pushing back on eviction

Click to play video: 'Some Halifax tent encampment residents pushing back on eviction'
Some Halifax tent encampment residents pushing back on eviction
Halifax Regional Municipality is taking steps to move tents out of some of its parks. A formal eviction notice was issued early last month, but as Zack Power explains, some people still living in the tents say they don’t plan on leaving – Mar 4, 2024

Halifax is moving forward with evicting residents of de-designated encampment sites, but at least one resident is standing her ground and refusing to leave.

Crews were on hand at Victoria Park in the city’s downtown Monday morning, putting up fencing around the site.

The municipality estimated six people were still sleeping rough at the park, and said in a statement that “compliance staff are currently communicating with those remaining people to advise that they can no longer remain in this de-designated location.”

Kathryn Jones Cleroux, who said she has been staying at the park since last August, told Global News the fencing went up without warning.

I come back to my house (after breakfast) surrounded by a fence, and I try to get in through the fence and two men come up to me and say, ‘If you break down that fence, Kathryn, we will arrest you,’ she said.

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“I’ve lived here for seven months. We’ve cleaned up. We’ve been operating and working with the compliance officers in order to clean up. We were told that as long as we cleaned up, everything was OK.”

Jones Cleroux is vowing to fight back and is refusing to leave. She said de-designating the sites and forcing them to leave has been unfair — especially since the municipality had set up the sites to begin with.

“Them doing this is discriminating against the poor and sick and people that can’t afford to pay the high rent prices right now,” she said.

“(I was) invited here by my government … They told us to come here. I would not have come here if they had not gone on the news and said, ‘This is one of the parks you can come to, and we will buy you tents and look after you in some way.'”  

By afternoon, the municipality confirmed that Jones Cleroux was the only person who remained at the site.

“We said we’re going to take a measured approach. We’ll continue to have a conversation with the individual,” said Bill Moore, the executive director of community safety with Halifax Regional Municipality.

“It’s a very difficult situation. We’re bringing some resources in to try to work through that. I can’t speculate what’s going to happen in the future, but, you know, we’ll continue that conversation.”

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‘I knew it was coming’

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The municipality first began designating encampment locations in the summer of 2022, in response to a growing population of unhoused people.

Victoria Park was not initially designated, however, tents were already pitched in the public space off Spring Garden Road.

In October 2023, the municipality expanded its designated tent sites to include Victoria Park.

Last month, Halifax decided to de-designate five of its 11 sites — saying “better options now exist,” including the 70-bed shelter at the Halifax Forum.

Eviction notices were pinned to tents on Feb. 7 at Victoria Park, the Geary Park green space, Saunders Park, Grand Parade, and the Cobequid Road ballfield.

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Feb. 26 was set as the deadline for residents to move, however, that day came and went. The municipality opted not to enforce the eviction because it was still working to find housing for everyone.

Two days later, the municipality said in a statement 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” and began telling residents to collect their belongings.

Click to play video: 'Deadline to vacate 5 Halifax encampments arrives'
Deadline to vacate 5 Halifax encampments arrives

By the end of the week, crews had disconnected power at two major encampments: Grand Parade and the Cobequid ballfield.

Now, the municipality says it is moving forward with the process.

“The health and safety conditions in the park have steadily declined over the past few months, placing those sheltering in this location in an increasingly vulnerable situation,” read Monday’s statement from the municipality.

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The statement went on to say that people at Victoria Park were being advised to “immediately pack their belongings.”

Moore told reporters people who had been camped in the park have moved elsewhere, and some of them will be setting up their tents one block away on a grassy berm along University Avenue.

He went on to say Victoria Park has a concerning rat infestation, and people who want to continue sleeping in a tent can do so at one of the four remaining designated encampment sites — including the University Avenue green space.

Meanwhile, Moore said that the municipality was trying to assist in the transition.

“On the ground, we have the navigators and our outreach staff here. We provide the ability for people to pack their things, and if they need storage … we have a place to have those stored. And we also have a process for them to be able to go to retrieve their items,” he said.

“We’re meeting people where they are. We’re following the outlines in the guide in relation to this civilian-led operation. And, you know, we’re just we’re working through it.”

The plan, said Moore, is to remediate the park and assess what clean-up needs to take place. Unclaimed belongings and food waste was being thrown in the garbage.

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Jay Campobello, a resident of the Victoria Park encampment, said Monday morning he was not surprised to see municipal crews and police at the site.

“I knew it was coming. It’s just a matter of when it was, and obviously it was today,” he said.

“It is a little disappointing, but in the same breath, I think they need to get the park back to the public and find more solutions for where we can go in basically.”

While he’s understanding, he also calls the eviction and fencing a “temporary Band-Aid” because he questions how long they can keep people out.

I think there’s a lot more that the city can do to combat homelessness in general. There needs to be more solutions in place for sure.

— with a file from Global News’ Zack Power and The Canadian Press

Click to play video: 'Power disconnected at Halifax homeless encampments'
Power disconnected at Halifax homeless encampments

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