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Stress builds as deadline to vacate some Halifax homeless encampments inches closer


With Halifax's deadline for residents to leave five homeless encampments just one week away, stress among unhoused people is growing and a volunteer at a downtown encampment said he's losing hope they will find adequate housing in time.

Stephen Wilsack has been volunteering for several weeks at the Grand Parade encampment, home to between 15 to 20 people sleeping in tents in the square in front of city hall.

"I'm perplexed, I feel unsettled," he said in an interview Monday, adding that he chose to volunteer at the Grand Parade to help its residents find housing. "But here we are," he said, gesturing to the red ice-fishing tents clustered around the square and the makeshift warming station.

Wilsack said he was initially hopeful the Grand Parade residents would find permanent places to live, but with only a week left until the city's deadline, he said he doesn't think that's possible. "It won't happen, in my opinion. How can it happen? Where will they go?"

Less than two weeks ago the municipality asked unhoused people staying in tents at the Grand Parade and four other authorized homeless encampments to leave by Feb. 26, saying better options are available, including at the Halifax Forum, a shelter with 70 beds located in the north end of the city.

Since then about five people have left the Grand Parade encampment for addictions treatment, shelters or to find housing in another province, Wilsack said. But over that same period, he added, a few new people have arrived at the site looking for a safe, warm place to sleep.

As well, he said, in the past few weeks an encampment has appeared with about 10 tents in an empty lot in Dartmouth.

Last month Nova Scotia put $3 million toward a new shelter at the Halifax Forum. But some unhoused residents say the facility is worse than a tent because it lacks privacy and security. Some say the shelter, which is in an auditorium-like space with cots and yellow curtains between beds, doesn't provide the same level of safety, comfort or support afforded to people tenting in the downtown square.

The municipality did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Bruno Doucet, a construction worker who is unhoused and has been staying in Grand Parade since Christmas, said if the city forces people out of the encampment "it means I'm going to be back out on the street again."

"I'm not a drug addict, I'm a worker, and I live on the street. I help build the city and they treat me like this," Doucet said in an interview Sunday.

Doucet says he prefers to sleep outdoors: he says he has had terrible experiences in shelters and in the hotel rooms the province has made available as temporary housing.

"The police sent me (to a hotel) when I asked for help. I went to the motel and slept with the light on, over top of the blankets and still the bed bugs bite me," he said.

"I'm sorry to say it, but it's the dirtiest place I've seen. I prefer to live in a tent then go and be with bed bugs and cockroaches."

Doucet said he has dealt with bed bugs on three separate occasions in hotel rooms rented out by the province for unhoused people. In response, he says, he will stay in a tent at the Grand Parade -- as long as police don't force him out -- until he can find an affordable place to rent or can purchase a car to live in.

In August 2021, a demonstration in downtown Halifax turned violent after police were directed by the city to clear public grounds of tents and temporary wooden shelters built by advocacy groups for the homeless. Clashes broke out between police and demonstrators on streets lined with shops and cafes, and protesters were sprayed in the face with chemical irritants.

Halifax's chief administrative officer Cathie O'Toole said on Feb. 7 that the city hopes the unhoused residents will leave voluntarily before Feb. 26. "But if we do get to the point where we have someone who is refusing to move beyond the notice, we do have the legal authority to remove people," O'Toole said at the time.

Police, she said, will not be involved in displacing people but "may be present just to observe."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2024.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.


In a story Monday, The Canadian Press erroneously reported that the Halifax Forum shelter is run by the city. The province of Nova Scotia runs the shelter through a third party. Top Stories


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