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HRM Council votes against putting tents on Halifax Commons

HRM Council has voted against a proposal to convert a section of the Halifax Commons into a designated tent encampment, but did ask city staff to explore leasing private land and buying pre-made structures to address homelessness.

“I don’t support the Commons solution,” Mayor Mike Savage said before the vote.

“But I sure as heck understand why it’s been proposed and we need to find some other solutions.”

Turning a section of the north end of the commons into a tent site was one proposal suggested in report outlining the HRM’s homelessness strategy. The rationale was if twenty tents were set up on the commons—and more added once baseball season was over—it would relieve some of the pressure on already existing overcrowded encampments, including Victoria Park and Grande Parade.

In a 12-4 vote, HRM council voted against it.

"What this means to my residents today and the businesses in downtown today is nothing changes tomorrow. It will exactly the same out there in Victoria Park and we've given no clear direction to staff," said councillor Waye Mason.

“Do I love using the Commons as a tent location? No. I don’t think anyone thinks that’s a great idea,” said councillor Sam Austin. “But I think we’re in this place of what is the alternative? Is the alternative to wait until Victoria Park has 70, 80 tents in it? Is that what we’re going to do?”

Max Chauvin, the report’s author and the HRM’s director of housing and homelessness, explained the number of homeless people in Halifax has dramatically jumped from 18 unhoused people five years ago to 178 this summer.

He pointed out tent sites are overcrowding and it’s expected more people will be living on the streets next year, as Nova Scotia’s rent cap increases to 5 per cent in January and the population continues to grow.

“We are in an immediate crisis and we need immediate solutions,” he said.

His staff report on homelessness said without dramatic policy changes from other all orders of government around creating deeply affordable housing, the city must accept that hundreds of people sheltering outside will continue for several years to come and plan according.

“I don’t think in the seven years I’ve been in council I’ve ever been more sobered by a staff report,” said Shawn Cleary, councillor for District 9.

Frustrations were on full display at the start of the debate Tuesday.

While Chauvin pointed out to HRM council, the province of Nova Scotia added 64 beds to the shelter system and opened 304 new supportive housing units in the past year, several councillors blamed the province for a lack of action on homelessness. The report also mentions that staff asked the province and Ottawa for additional space for unhoused people to shelter and while the province initially offered multiple sites to consider, none were made available.

“The province is not doing their job and are giving them a way to keep from doing their job,” said councillor Tim Outhit, while debating the options presented to council. “Instead of sending them down on the Commons, send them down to the legislature.”

Sam Austin said people are being forced to live outside because of a complete dereliction of duty by the province.

“If you look at the choices that our current government has made they do not lend anyone to think the cavalry is coming,” said Austin.

“You look at the contrast. Out in Tantallon where we have a wildfire within a month you have a plan to bring in the housing. How long have we been asking for help pleading with our provincial government for some action on this? It’s going on three years now.”

Councillor Lisa Blackburn fears after the rent cap rises, the housing crisis could become a humanitarian crisis.

“Because you know that those rents are going up 5 per cent to the absolute penny,” said Blackburn.

On Tuesday night HRM council also voted for staff to look into buying pre-made structures, explore leasing private land to house people, and write the province to ask for their immediate plans to create deeply affordable housing in HRM.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page. Top Stories

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