Halifax’s emergency manager calls city’s homelessness situation a ‘crisis event’

Click to play video: 'HRM’s emergency manager appointed to address homelessness crisis'
HRM’s emergency manager appointed to address homelessness crisis
Watch: In response to the homelessness crisis in Halifax, the city has appointed an assistant chief of emergency management to invest half a million dollars toward emergency accommodations. Amber Fryday has more – Sep 17, 2021

In the past, Erica Fleck has helped the city of Halifax manage disasters like hurricanes and forest fires.

But now, HRM’s emergency manager has been tasked with addressing another kind of emergency: homelessness.

“It’s another crisis event, unfortunately,” said Fleck in an interview with Global News.

“My experience is in controlling the chaos and dealing with large crisis events, with very short turnaround time for deliverables, advising on ways ahead.”

Fleck was recently assigned a three-month role leading the city’s emergency response to homelessness.

Read more: Halifax council admits ‘some things did go wrong’ in encampment eviction

This comes after the city voted to earmark $500,000 to put a range of emergency housing in place for unhoused people in Halifax at the end of August — nearly two weeks after Halifax Regional Police officers forcibly displaced unhoused people from encampments around the city, leading to large protests and two dozen arrests.

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Fleck said the entire budget will go toward implementing short, medium and long-term solutions, with a focus on immediate fixes since the weather is starting to get colder.

“The problem is that, of course, there’s no cookie-cutter approach here. What works for one is not going to work for the next person,” she said.

“It’s going to be a lot of input, a lot of planning, and not just one solution.”

Everything on the table

Volunteers working at Meagher Park — also known as People’s Park, the temporary tent city on Chebucto and Dublin streets — say the small space is rapidly running out of room and the people living there need help right now.

Fleck, who starts her new role Monday, said they are considering “absolutely everything” to get people into housing as quickly as possible.

“Off the top of my head, do we have existing infrastructure that we can use?” she said.

“We also have to look at where it’s located. It needs to be close to resources that these citizens need and we need to be adequately able to provide for them in the spaces that we do provide.

“Everything is on the table right now and we just have to find what fits best.”

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Click to play video: 'Some moved from Halifax encampments into hotel rooms told they must leave'
Some moved from Halifax encampments into hotel rooms told they must leave

The volunteers are also calling for an immediate moratorium on temporary shelter and tent evictions until more housing options are put in place.

Fleck, who will be able to make recommendations to the city, said she won’t commit to making that recommendation until she begins her work.

“It’s a balancing act, and until I get fully read in on the file I will not make any recommendations, so I can’t say what I will or will not recommend,” she said.

“It could be a recommendation but we’ll just have to wait and see what next week brings.”

Some volunteers and People’s Park residents have also expressed frustration about a lack of communication from the city, especially after a number of people promised an extended stay in a Dartmouth hotel were told they had to leave with almost no warning earlier this week.

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Read more: Unhoused people displaced from Dartmouth hotel despite promise of extended stay

Fleck said she is making communication one of her top priorities and plans to meet with unhoused people and those working with them in her new role.

“Lack of communication will cripple any endeavor that we ever try to do. If we don’t have good communication, we’ll never get anywhere,” she said.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said Fleck is a “perfect match” for this role.

He said she will report to the city’s CAO and will co-ordinate with staff and council to bring solutions forward.

“We have a really serious issue in this city right now of people who are unhoused,” he said. “But there’s not a lot of immediate solutions, and we need immediate solutions.”

‘Just trying to placate’

But Drew Spark, who’s currently living in People’s Park and has been struggling with homelessness since he was a teenager, was less optimistic about this appointment and the $500,000 being spent to find solutions.

“I believe it’s completely just trying to placate everybody and shut them up,” he said.

“Unless you appoint this appropriately and do something meaningful with it, take your money and shove it … there’s no point.”

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He said a lot of money has been wasted already on hotels, which is not always a good fit for people, when there are already volunteers and unhoused people ready and willing to construct shelters and fix up empty buildings.

“Give these people skills, and pride, and a home,” he said.

— with files from Amber Fryday

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