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Halifax police called to enforce vacate order at Meagher Park

Click to play video: '‘Vacate order’ request made for police to evacuate people staying in Halifax Park' ‘Vacate order’ request made for police to evacuate people staying in Halifax Park
Watch: An official request has been made for police to remove individuals who have been staying in a prominent park in Halifax. Meagher Park, also known as People’s Park, has been the site of a tent encampment for over a year. Many in the community say it’s a “disappointment” that it’s come to this point. Callum Smith has more. – Aug 5, 2022

An official request has been made for police to step in and enforce a vacate order at a Halifax park that has been the site of a tent encampment for a year.

In her letter to Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella, Parks & Recreation executive director Margaret MacDonald said staff have made “repeated efforts” to encourage those sheltering at Meagher Park to vacate the site.

“I do not believe further civilian efforts will result in the park being vacated, as such I am asking your help to enforce the relevant provisions of the Municipal Parks By-law and the Protection of Property Act as set out in the notice,” she wrote in the letter dated Wednesday.

Meagher Park, also known as People’s Park, is located on Chebucto Road. Unhoused people have been staying there since the police-led encampment evictions in August 2021.

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Read more: Halifax considers police intervention after residents refuse to leave Meagher Park

This summer, councillors designated four municipal park sites where unhoused people could set up tent, but also said those staying at Meagher Park would have to leave by July 17.

Although the deadline has passed, the municipality has said about four or five residents remain, along with protesters.

In an update released Thursday, the municipality said “some advocates and protesters have indicated their intention to engage in conflict should the municipality enforce the July 5, 2022, notice to vacate and remove individuals from the park.”

The update went on to outline an incident that happened Wednesday night. According to the municipality, firefighters were called at around 6 p.m. in response to a reported bonfire.

“Upon arrival, the firefighters saw a fire in a pit that consisted of construction debris and plastic tarps. The firefighters reminded the approximately four individuals in the park that there is currently a provincial fire ban in place and directed that the fire be extinguished. The individuals refused to extinguish the fire and would not allow the firefighters access to extinguish the fire,” the statement read.

The municipality said firefighters called Halifax Regional Police, and officers “spoke to those individuals in the park and assisted the firefighters with gaining access to the fire.

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In their own statement, Halifax Regional Police said Thursday evening that they have an “obligation to protect the public safety of all involved – and urge efforts towards a safe exit.”

“Earlier efforts have not resulted in the park being cleared. The municipality’s ongoing efforts to support people experiencing homelessness have included providing additional supports and alternative arrangements, including to those at this location,” the statement read.

“Efforts continue to be made to allow occupants to voluntarily vacate and remove their belongings from the municipal property.”

Councillors were told during a meeting this week that after MacDonald made the request, the police chief would then work on an appropriate operational plan.

MacDonald’s letter also said the municipality will “continue to work to ensure supports are provided to those sheltering in the park.”

She said when police enforce the order, the municipality will be able to help with supports, such as transportation to a designated site or other accommodation.

“We will also be available to confirm, prior to enforcement, that adequate spaces are available either in a housing option or at a designated outdoor site.”

‘One park to another is not the answer’

Meanwhile, a Dalhousie University School of Social Work professor says finding long-term solutions for people living at Meagher Park — and sleeping rough in other locations across the municipality — poses immense challenges.

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“Safe, affordable, appropriate forms of housing — that is the real difficulty,” says Jeff Karabanow, a co-director of the university’s Social Work Community Clinic. “Moving individuals from one park to another is not the answer.”

Click to play video: 'Halifax council considers police enforcement at Meagher Park' Halifax council considers police enforcement at Meagher Park
Halifax council considers police enforcement at Meagher Park – Aug 2, 2022

The municipality has invested upwards of $5 million to set up modular units at two sites in Halifax and Dartmouth, which can accommodate 64 people.

But in a staff presentation earlier this week, council was told 18 to 20 spaces remain at the Halifax location in the Centennial Pool parking lot.

“It is a significant transition between having lived outside for more than a year into an indoor space,” Max Chauvin, the municipality’s special projects manager of the homelessness file, said during the meeting.

“Some of the candidates in the modulars have high needs and it does take time.”

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Two tents and two structures shown at Meagher Park Thursday. Callum Smith / Global News

“This situation at Meagher cannot continue,” Dartmouth Centre Councillor Sam Austin said. “It’s gone on too long already and is deteriorating.”

Chauvin said neighbours have reported “hearing beatings” at the park, but fear retaliation when reporting to police.

“We have people who have reported to us they’ve developed PTSD from those experiences,” he said.

The list of concerns, according to municipal staff, include a rat problem, property theft, property damage, needles and human feces.

“The current residents have indicated that now they’re unwilling to leave and protesters have indicated — both in direct discussion and through social media — their intent to block efforts by HRM to vacate the park,” MacDonald added.

Police involvement not ideal: professor

In an interview prior to the municipality’s update Thursday, Karabanow also said police involvement is not the ideal response.

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He suggested further conversations to better understand the needs of the unhoused people living at the park, and securing some vacant office spaces.

Read more: Four residents remain at Halifax’s Meagher Park on eviction day

“That would’ve been a smarter route to go, to be able to kind of locate empty space and to be able to create just a little bit more of a dignified space for living,” he told Global News.

“We’re a rich country. To be using parks as the band-aid approach to homelessness is really, really problematic.”

A tent is shown at one of the city’s designated tenting sites in Dartmouth. Alexa MacLean / Global News

“We need everybody working together to find the best solutions,” he said. “There’s got to be a way that is respectful, that has a lot of dignity, that is safe and non-violent where we try to engage folks to get to a different space, a safer space.”

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Designated tenting sites

In June, municipal councillors unanimously approved four designated greenspaces where people could tent.

The update provided by the municipality on Thursday states that there are several vacancies at the tent sites.

The Barrington Street green space in Halifax has nine tents, with capacity for 11 more tents. Lower Flinn Park has one tent, with capacity for three more.

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

On the Dartmouth side, Green Road Park has no tents on site, but has a capacity for eight tents. The Geary Street greenspace is the only site that is fully occupied, with three tents and three structures.

The update also noted that there was a tent damaged by fire at the Green Road site on Monday evening. Fire crews were called to the scene and the person sheltering in the tent was uninjured.

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