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Halifax finds accommodations for 7 unhoused people, but volunteers question longevity

Click to play video: 'More than 100 people gathered in Halifax to support for people without a home' More than 100 people gathered in Halifax to support for people without a home
More than 100 people gathered in Grand Parade, in front of Halifax’s city hall, on Saturday morning to show their support for those without a home and to make a call for action – Sep 18, 2021

HRM says it has found “alternative, safe, temporary accommodations” for seven unhoused people living in Meagher Park — also known as People’s Park — but the volunteers who work with them say they’ve been left out of the decision.

The city did not say where they were placed, but Global News has learned they’re staying at the Gerald B. Gray Memorial Arena in Dartmouth. Security officers did not allow Global to enter the arena and speak with the people living there.

The move comes after an incident last week, where unhoused people were promised an extended stay at a hotel in Dartmouth, but the occupants were told to leave with very little notice after it turned out the hotel only had rooms available for two weeks.

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

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Drew Moore, a volunteer with P.A.D.S. Community Network, said the decision to move them to the arena wasn’t made in consultation with unhoused people.

“It’s been unclear as to how long this arena is for, and what happens after the arena. So … what is the plan to get permanent, accessible, dignified housing?” he said.

“People who are unhoused deserve the dignity of being informed about what their short and long-term options are so they can make informed decisions.”

Drew Moore, with P.A.D.S. Community Network, says unhoused people need to be involved in conversations about where they will go.
Drew Moore, with P.A.D.S. Community Network, says unhoused people need to be involved in conversations about where they will go. Global News

In a release, the municipality said it was contacted by service providers and volunteers working at People’s Park on Sept. 18 asking for support to “immediately relocate individuals from the park due to an increased risk to the health and safety of both the tent occupants and the public.”

People’s Park, at the corner of Dublin Street and Chebucto Road, has become something of an encampment ever since Halifax Regional Police officers forcibly removed a number of unhoused people from tents and small wooden shelters around the city in August, sparking widespread protests and two dozen arrests.

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While the city claimed at the time that everybody who was displaced was offered alternative housing, council later admitted that was not the case.

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

The municipality said Tuesday that while the stay at the new accommodation is limited, it’s working with the province and community-based partners to identify and offer other temporary accommodations and housing options.

“These current accommodations will be made available until alternate options have been secured,” the release said.

But that promise isn’t good enough for Vicky Levack, an accessibility advocate and volunteer at People’s Park. She said it’s unclear how long they’ll be able to stay, and that’s a worry — especially after what happened with the hotel last week.

“They are terrified of the municipal government because they’re so wishy washy,” she said.

“People feel very precarious right now, because we could lose the arena any time. There is no contract saying, ‘No, you will stay here indefinitely,’ so we’re just going day-by-day.”

Vicky Levack is concerned about how long people will be able to stay at the arena. Global News

Levack said what they need is stability, and with the constant fear of being displaced again, it’s difficult for people to get on their feet.

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“I’m not saying we give everybody a friggin’ penthouse apartment in the sky, but I think they deserve — at the very least, because they are humans — a place to call home, a place where they can feel safe and secure,” she said.

“Because until you have a roof over your head, it’s very hard to get your life together.”

It’s because of this uncertainty that Daniel Clark, who’s been homeless on and off for the last five years, would rather live in a place like People’s Park than take his chances at the arena or a hotel.

“People like a bit of freedom and respect, and a lot of these shelters, it’s hard to get that,” he said. “I feel like I can do more, I can interact with people more … when you go to a place like that, there’s a lot of stigma.”

Daniel Clark says he would rather live on the street than go to a place like an arena or a hotel. Global News

Tuesday’s release from the city noted that council recently voted to spend $500,000 on implementing emergency accommodations for unhoused people.

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It said if appropriate options are identified, professional community-based service providers will determine the suitability of the site for short-term housing and providing support.

The municipality has also appointed Erica Fleck, the city’s emergency manager, to lead the city’s response to homelessness.

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

In an interview with Global News last week, Fleck said improving communication was a top priority for her and promised she would include unhoused people and the volunteers helping them in conversations going forward.

“As housing insecurity continues to be an issue in the region,” Tuesday’s release said, “work with community partners and other levels of government has significantly accelerated, and collaboration has expanded to help address both affordable housing and homelessness.”

— with files from Amber Fryday

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