Halifax Regional Police say Meagher Park has been fenced off and “physically secured” by municipal staff.
The 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.
This summer, councillors designated four municipal park sites where unhoused people could set up tents, but also said those staying at Meagher Park would have to leave by July 17 “following deteriorating health and safety conditions at the park.”
While a few residents originally remained after the deadline, Halifax Regional Police said in a news release issued at 5 a.m. Friday morning that everyone is now gone after accepting “alternative options.”
It said the site was physically secured by Halifax Regional Municipality staff and Halifax Regional Police officers were on hand “for support and assistance.”
“Following confirmation that the park no longer had residents staying in it, additional time was provided to ensure that those housing options were being utilized while continuing arrangements to relocate remaining belongings with the assistance of municipal staff,” the release said.
“This morning, following the completion of all those steps, and consistent with the commitment to exercise a measured approach, the park was secured with fencing for upcoming rehabilitation work.”
Police said in the statement that there was “no easy way” to implement the plan, and their approach was “meant to reduce trauma from any actions and ensure supports for all involved in the best and most thoughtful possible manner while reducing public safety risks.
“HRP officers took a patient, measured and supportive approach throughout as the process unfolded while acting in a supportive capacity,” it said.
The release said any further questions should be directed to the city.
Global News requested an interview with Mayor Mike Savage, but was told he was “not here.”
‘Urgent action’ needed to address crisis: P.A.D.S.
The move came one week after more than a dozen homeless serving organizations made a number of recommendations for an “alternative path forward” — one that includes unhoused people in decision-making and does not involve police-led evictions.
In a statement, P.A.D.S. Community Advocacy Network — which advocates for permanent, accessible, dignified and safe housing — said members were concerned about the barricading of the park Friday.
“We are concerned that some of the people who relocated from the park did so out of fear of police violence, given the police and contracted security surveillance activities in and around the park over the past several days,” it said.
“These intimidation tactics do not constitute a peaceful approach to closing down the park, nor are they part of the joint statement recommendations from service providers and advocacy groups released on August 5th.”
In an interview, P.A.D.S. volunteer Drew Moore said the closure of the park sets a “precedent for the many other homeless encampments that currently exist, and are likely soon to pop up.”
He noted that unhoused people began staying at Meagher Park in the first place after the police-led encampment evictions last summer.
“That is what evictions do,” he said, “as well as the harm that they cause.”
According to the latest numbers from the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, there were 657 people experiencing homelessness in the HRM as of Aug. 9
As well, an an earlier point-in-time count indicated there are more than 580 people without a safe, permanent address.
However, P.A.D.S. said this number is likely much higher as it does not capture the extent of “hidden homelessness” in the city — “such as those who do not go to service providers, those who couch surf, those who engage in survival sex, and other forms of less visible homelessness.”
Moore said the issue will only worsen unless action is taken immediately.
“We are in a homelessness crisis that is being exacerbated by the housing crisis,” he said. “We need to see significant, urgent action from all levels of government to address this.”
‘Strength in numbers’
Zachary Gough, a spokesperson for Halifax Mutual Aid, the organization behind many of Halifax’s wooden shelters, said in a statement to The Canadian Press that “the city escalated a campaign of intimidation and threats of violence against those sheltering at the park” over the last several months.
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“Which eventually resulted in every resident fleeing the site,” he said.
The number of people living at the park has varied significantly since last summer. At its peak — in the fall — there were 34 people living there, and as of last week there were nine residents.
Calista Hills, a volunteer who works with residents at Meagher Park, said in a text message interview some residents have moved to other green spaces or parks in the city, a couple have secured hotel stays and some aren’t sure where they will go. Hills said she has been told she and other volunteers will be permitted to retrieve any residents’ belongings that were in the park when it was fenced in.
Gough said he’s concerned that unhoused people who were living at Meagher Park face greater risk now that the park has been closed down.
“At People’s Park, they had strength in numbers, the eye of the media and a community of supporters to help prevent evictions,” he said. “Dispersed, they face violence and evictions alone.”
— with files from Alexa MacLean and The Canadian Press