Meghan Watters has been experiencing homelessness for about a year. She has aspirations of going to school or finding a job but says, “it is so hard to do that when you have no place to go at night.”
Most of the time, she is able to sleep in a shelter for the night. However, Tuesday evening she was told shelters were at capacity and made the decision to pitch a tent in Dartmouth Commons.
Watters was shocked when she was awoken by two female Halifax Regional Police (HRP) officers telling her she had to take her tent down because, “the city told us we could tent anywhere.”
HRP said the officers responded to a report of a violation of municipal bylaws made by a city compliance officer.
There still seems to be a great deal of confusion surrounding whether those sleeping rough are permitted to sleep in parks, after a report by city council on homelessness and encampments from earlier this month states:
If occupied (a tent or shelter), the first approach will be to work with individuals, gathering information about them, gauging interest in and ability to be connected to housing or shelter options, and sharing this information, consistent with privacy requirements, among HRM, the province and other service providers, to attempt to identify options for suitable housing.
“They didn’t offer to help me pack up my stuff, they didn’t offer to help with anything. I asked them to take me to the shelter. They just got in the car and left,” Watters said.
Watters said the interaction left her feeling helpless.
“There’s only two women’s shelters and they’re both always full. It’s still too cold to be out in a tent. But, when you put up a tent and take it down everyday it’s so hard having to carry your bags with you all the time.”
Robin Tress lives in the area and while out for a morning walk, witnessed the transaction between Watters and the Halifax Regional Police.
“It feels really cruel…really cruel and inhumane. To me, housing is a human right and it’s not being respected by the city or the police,” Tress said.
Earlier in the month, Halifax City Council decided individuals living rough would no longer be removed from parks until a safe place was provided to go and necessary supports were put in place.
An HRM spokesperson told Global News in an email that Halifax Regional Police continue their practice of posting notices to vacate tents and structures on municipal parks, as they are not permitted.
“Municipal staff are returning to Regional Council in the coming weeks with a follow-up report offering analysis and recommendations addressing homelessness in the municipality, including a timeline and a plan for supporting the transition of people and educational outreach,” the spokesperson said.
“This plan will be led by civilian staff.”