Halifax has ‘no interest in criminalizing homelessness,’ mayor says

Click to play video: 'HRM secures 2 dozen modular units for those experiencing homelessness' HRM secures 2 dozen modular units for those experiencing homelessness
WATCH: The Halifax Regional Municipality says it’s secured 24 modular units that will be able to provide housing accommodations for up to 73 people. But as Graeme Benajmin reports, advocates say it doesn’t come close to addressing the short-term housing crisis. – Sep 29, 2021

The city of Halifax says it won’t evict unhoused people from makeshift shelters until they have a safe place to go, but stopped short of announcing a moratorium on shelter evictions.

This comes weeks after Halifax Regional Police officers forcibly removed encampments around the city on Aug. 18. The day culminated with chaotic protests that led to two dozen arrests and officers pepper-spraying crowds.

At the time, the city had said the displaced residents were offered alternative housing, but council later backtracked and said that was not the case.

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

In a news conference on the city’s response to homelessness Wednesday, Halifax’s assistant chief of emergency management, Erica Fleck, promised that nobody else will be removed from encampments until they have a safe place to stay.

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Click to play video: 'Halifax city official denies accusation of threat to forcibly removed tent occupants from peninsula' Halifax city official denies accusation of threat to forcibly removed tent occupants from peninsula
Halifax city official denies accusation of threat to forcibly removed tent occupants from peninsula – Sep 29, 2021

However, she said the city will not commit to a moratorium on evictions at this time.

“We’re not going to change the bylaw for people living in HRM parks, but what we will do is work with the people that are living in the parks to transition peacefully to another location that works for them,” said Fleck.

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

Since the Aug. 18 evictions, a number of unhoused people have been living in Meagher Park, also known as People’s Park, at Chebucto and Dublin streets.

They’ve been assisted by volunteers with the group PADS Community Network, which advocates for permanent, accessible, dignified and safe housing options.

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PADS recently announced it received assurances from the city that there will be no more evictions, so they will take a step back from the site to allow for a “resident-run system.”

Fleck also denied accusations by Halifax Mutual Aid that said she told crisis shelter tent occupants to leave the peninsula or that they will be forcibly removed.

Read more: Volunteer group steps back from Halifax tent encampment site to allow for ‘resident-run system’

She has visited the park and spoken with residents and volunteers, and said “at no time were they told they were going to be forcibly removed.”

She said it’s the same case in other parks people are living in, such as Victoria Park in downtown Halifax. Fleck said nobody has been evicted from Victoria Park unless there’s a “health or safety concern,” but did not elaborate on if anybody has been displaced from there or what the nature of the concerns were.

Mayor Mike Savage said the city has “no interest in criminalizing homelessness” and said they are focused on looking for solutions.

“Being homelessness is not a crime. Nobody has been arrested for being homeless, nobody will be arrested for being homeless,” he said.

Update on housing options

During the conference, Savage highlighted what the city has done so far to alleviate the issue, which includes earmarking $500,000 to put a range of emergency housing in place, planning to open mobile showers for people experiencing homelessness, and expanding its affordable housing grant.

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He also said the city has a tax relief program for developers building not-for-profit housing, and said 52 units have been approved through the first intake of the federal Rapid Housing Initiative.

He noted the wraparound services that should accompany housing — like mental health services and addictions — are a provincial responsibility.

Read more: Halifax expands its affordable housing grant program from $200K to $400K

“That said, we have a duty to all residents of the municipality — a moral obligation to work to help people who are unhoused and to help improve affordability so more people can remain safe and secure in their homes or find a home,” he said.

Fleck said Halifax is collaborating with the province to establish two emergency accommodation sites “in the very near future” as the weather starts to get colder.

One is in Dartmouth and the other is in Halifax, but there are no further details on their locations at this time as they’re still confirming the exact sites.

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

She said they have purchased 24 “modular units” that can provide accommodations for up to 73 people, and said the city is looking to the province to provide the wraparound services required at these locations.

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Fleck added that those who have accepted accommodations at the Gerald B. Gray Memorial Arena in Dartmouth will be able to stay until there are alternative accommodations.

“It is important to remember these emergency accommodation sites are a short-term option to help bridge more permanent options,” she said.

She also said the city plans to hire a co-ordinator on a one-year term to liaise with professional service providers to provide support to unhoused people.

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