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Structure to secure food for unhoused people deemed safety risk by HRM, dismantled overnight

Click to play video: 'Halifax park residents distraught after food structure torn down' Halifax park residents distraught after food structure torn down
WATCH: A structure being used as a food pantry at Meagher Park in Halifax’s west end was torn down by municipal workers on Saturday night, saying the structure was unsafe and illegal. Volunteers and people living in the park say they were distraught by the incident and are concerned about their wellbeing. Amber Fryday explains. – Feb 28, 2022

Volunteers and members of a Halifax encampment, known as People’s Park, are speaking out against the removal of a wooden structure that the municipality deemed a safety risk.

On Saturday night, Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) workers and several police officers arrived at the site, located at the corner of Dublin Street and Chebucto Road, to dismantle the wooden platform and tarp.

Read more: Unhoused people living in Halifax parks brace for first major snow storm

Laura Patterson, a community member and volunteer at the tent encampment where unhoused people have been living since last August, was present when the structure was removed and live-streamed it.

Click to play video: 'Municipality dismantles structure deemed ‘safety risk’ at Halifax encampment' Municipality dismantles structure deemed ‘safety risk’ at Halifax encampment
Municipality dismantles structure deemed ‘safety risk’ at Halifax encampment – Feb 27, 2022

She can be heard imploring the police and municipal workers to stop.

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“The purpose of the structure that we were trying to finish yesterday was to try and keep food out of the mud, to try and keep it from being rained on, to try and keep it from being frozen into a block of snow and ice, trying to keep food so that it’s still edible so that people can eat it,” she told Global News on Sunday.

Patterson said every time there is a snowstorm, the encampment loses 50 to 70 per cent of its food. The structure, which was only partially complete, would have helped to protect their supplies.

She admitted the residents didn’t have a permit to build the structure, but aimed to find a resolution with city officials to proceed with the build.

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“We were hopeful that we could get it sorted out in some way. All we needed to do was put a couple more boards on the outside for sheathing to make it a little safer, more rigid of a structure, and then just to pull a great big ice rink tarp that we bought on Amazon over top of it,” she said.

She estimated the structure already had $1,200 worth of materials.

But at around 10 p.m., Patterson was alerted by park residents that Halifax Regional Police officers were on site to facilitate the dismantling of the structure by contractors.

I honestly never thought that they would do that to people at the end of February. It was -22,” she said.

Read more: Halifax providing shelter for unhoused during upcoming storm

It’s estimated 14 people are staying at the encampment, which was formed after police forcibly evicted people from the Spring Garden Road encampment on Aug. 18, 2021. The clash that day between officers and a crowd of protesters resulted in police using pepper spray, and people getting arrested.

Patterson said she understands neighbours of People’s Park, which is officially known as Meagher Park in the city, may be unhappy with the encampment but that there are no other housing options.

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“People here have been abandoned effectively. There are no shelter beds. There is no hotel funding available right now if you call shelter diversion support, which is what people are told to do. You’re put on a wait list. There’s no immediate help,” she said.

Laura Patterson is a volunteer at the People’s Park site, which is located at Meagher Park in Halifax. Alexa MacLean/Global News

In a statement released late Sunday afternoon, the municipality called the structure an “illegal and unsafe structure on municipal property” and said it was HRM’s “obligation to take action using appropriate enforcement of existing by-laws and regulations.”

“Mid-afternoon on Saturday, Feb. 26, the municipality was made aware that a large (12x12x10) illegal structure was being built at Meagher Park,” the statement read.

“Halifax Regional Police visited the site and it was determined that this illegal structure was intended to serve as a cooking facility for occupants of the park. Due to the safety risks of operating an illegal structure of this nature in a public park, the individuals building the structure were asked to remove it.”

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Read more: Halifax homelessness growing as housing projects catch up with demand

The municipality went on to say that a “number of hours later,” the structure had still not been removed, so municipal staff began taking it down.

“No other items, including tents, temporary shelters, or food, were removed from Meagher Park,” the municipality’s statement noted. “No fines were issued by municipal staff, at Meagher Park, on Saturday.”

— With a file from Alexa MacLean 

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