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Halifax has spent more than $33,000 on clearing out three homeless encampments

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HALIFAX -

Halifax spent more than $33,000 this month dismantling and cleaning up three encampments that had previously been authorized by the municipality for homeless people -- money advocates say would have been better spent on supporting unhoused residents.

City staff put unclaimed belongings from three encampments into the trash after asking unhoused people living in tents in five previously "designated" homeless encampments to leave by Feb. 26.

"I think that's a complete misuse of money. They should be spending more on the support people actually need to progress out of the situation they're in," said Nikki Greer, president of the non-profit volunteer group that supported the residents of a now-closed tent encampment in suburban Lower Sackville for more than six months.

At its peak, there were 54 people living in tents on a ball field on Cobequid Road in Lower Sackville. Greer's group, the Gated Community Organization, has continued to support many of the people who stayed at the encampment and is using donated money to cover the short-term rental costs for several former residents.

Greer said the money spent to tear down three encampments could have had a significant impact if used to pay short-term housing, hotel room stays, or food and essential items for unhoused residents.

"There needs to be a much higher level of support for these individuals," she said.

Halifax spokesperson Jake Fulton said in an email that as of Tuesday, the city has spent about $33,000 cleaning up the sites in downtown Halifax's Grand Parade, Victoria Park and Lower Sackville.

Fulton said the money does not cover all outstanding invoices, including for the cost of fencing that was erected around the perimeter of the two downtown encampment sites.

In October, the municipality designated 11 sites around the city as tenting areas for people without housing, but last month it announced that five of them would be shut down.

The city said the encampments posed a safety risk and indoor housing options were available, including at the Halifax Forum, a shelter with 70 beds located in the north end of the city.

On March 4, when city staff fenced off and cleared out the Victoria Park encampment, the municipality's executive director of community safety, Bill Moore, said the green space had a concerning rat infestation and needed to be cleaned up.

Sydnee Blum, chair of the Halifax division of national housing advocacy group ACORN, said the amount spent on clearing out encampments is concerning.

"Every penny that the city, and the province for that matter, should be spending on the housing crisis should be going towards solving it, not just erasing the evidence that it exists," Blum said in an interview Wednesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2024.

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