Halifax says unhoused tenants of city park must move by July 17

Click to play video: 'Unhoused people must leave Meagher Park by July 17: HRM' Unhoused people must leave Meagher Park by July 17: HRM
WATCH: Halifax Regional Municipality is closing Meagher Park – where people with no other options have been living for about a year. That’s causing unrest for tenants and advocates, but the city says other municipal green spaces are being set up. Callum Smith reports – Jul 5, 2022

Halifax Regional Municipality says residents who live or shelter in a city park have 12 days to leave the park.

In a Tuesday morning release, the municipality said Meagher Park — also known as People’s Park — will be closing as of noon on Tuesday “for reconstruction work.” Those who shelter there will have a “transition period” until July 17 to move.

“Health and safety conditions in the park have continued to decline in recent months, placing those sheltering in this location in an increasingly vulnerable situation,” read the release.

Calista Hills, a volunteer at People’s Park, said they are frustrated, but not surprised.

Those living in the park are “pretty shocked and just trying to take it all in,” Hills said.

“(They’re) worrying about where they’re going to end up in the next few weeks if they can’t get another solid option.”

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Read more: Halifax council approves plan for tent sites in 4 city parks amid housing crisis

The news comes just weeks after regional council approved four municipal parks as areas where people experiencing homelessness can tent.

Click to play video: 'Halifax staff report recommends 4 parks where people experiencing homelessness can tent' Halifax staff report recommends 4 parks where people experiencing homelessness can tent
Halifax staff report recommends 4 parks where people experiencing homelessness can tent – Jun 13, 2022

A June 14 staff report from Parks & Recreation said the city is “in a housing and homelessness crisis.”

Max Chauvin, the special projects manager with Parks & Recreation, told councillors the number of people who had signed up with the municipality in search of housing had gone up 12.6 per cent between April 19 and May 31. Marginalized communities, including people with Indigenous backgrounds and former youth in care, are overrepresented in the numbers.

The designated areas are Green Road Park and the Geary Street green space in Dartmouth, as well as the Barrington Street green space and Lower Flinn Park in Halifax. The report said more than 30 people could “sleep rough in the community” with this plan.

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Meagher Park was not on the list.

Dalhousie University Legal Aid on Twitter posted a “Notice to vacate/leave” that was allegedly given to those living in the park.

In part, the notice reads: “No public entry or use of the Park will be permitted after 12:00 p.m. on the 5th day of July 2022. This includes the erection, placing or maintaining of anything for the purpose of temporary or permanent accommodation.”

It also says the municipality ” directs any person having erected or placed anything in Meagher Park… to remove that shelter, including tents, and all personal belongs.”

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Failure to follow instructions from the notice “is an offence,” the city said in the notice. Consequences could include fines and removal from the property by peace officers.

Read more: As Halifax modular units face delays, volunteer says more needed to address homelessness

In the summer of 2021, park evictions turned violent near the old Spring Garden Road Memorial Library.

On Aug. 17, 2021, Halifax Regional Police officers unleashed pepper spray on a crowd of people protesting their forcible removal of an encampment being used by people without homes. Police began dismantling tents and temporary shelters, telling occupants to immediately vacate the park.

They were met with anger from a large group of people in the area, and a protective wall was formed in front of the crisis shelters. Police officers eventually forcibly moved the wall of people and made arrests.

Mayor Mike Savage said on Tuesday the city will ensure evictions don’t turn violent again.

“We don’t direct the police, I can tell you nobody wants the police to go in there less than they do,” Savage said.

“That’s not our goal. Our goal is to move people in a way that they find suits their needs, as well as everybody else’s.”

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The city said Meagher Park is now full of mud and has a significant rat population, making it unsafe for any use.

Savage said the four designated park sites have some amenities that Meagher Park doesn’t, such as portable toilets and garbage cans. Potable water, storage boxes and needle boxes are being added.

“They will have more there than they have at Meagher Park,” Savage said.

Read more: Halifax homeless population at almost 600, with ‘a lot of people’ missed: survey

In the municipality’s release to the public, it said many of those living at Meagher Park have accepted housing from service providers. These include Street Outreach Navigators and Housing Support Workers.

“Municipal staff visited the park today to offer those currently sheltering in the park information on available resources, advise them that the park is being closed, and explain the transition period so they do not have to leave the park right away,” read the release.

“The municipality’s priority has been, and continues to be, treating those experiencing homelessness with dignity and continuing to find ways to provide support them within our organization’s capacity and scope.”

The municipality said once the park is vacant, it will be fully fenced in for reconstruction work “to return the park to its original state.”

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— With files from Callum Smith, Rebecca Lau, Aya Al-Hakim.

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