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Halifax will 'find appropriate housing' for people living in closing encampments: mayor


The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) will work to “find appropriate housing” for people currently living in five homeless encampments that will close near the end of the month, according to the mayor.

“For a long time we’ve let people stay on public land,” said Mike Savage during a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “We believe now we have solutions. We have 100 Pallet shelters coming in to HRM. We believe there is enough space for people living in the streets and tents.

“We’re hoping we don’t evict anyone, we’re hoping we give people a better place to live. Having encampments in the heart of the city made people realize we have a housing crisis.” 

According to a Wednesday news release from Halifax, the municipality is closing and de-designating five of the 11 encampments in the region “because better options now exist.” People staying at encampments at Grand Parade, Victoria Park, Saunders Park, the Geary Street green space, and the Correctional Centre Park in Lower Sackville must leave those areas by Feb. 26.

Notices to vacate the Grand Parade encampment are posted on tents. (Bruce Frisko/CTV News Atlantic)

“The municipality remains committed to ensuring those sleeping rough are provided better alternatives, working toward having safer, long-term housing options for everyone who needs them. Indoor facilities are a better option than sleeping rough,” the release states. “They offer much needed supports and provide a warm space, electricity, running water, showers, laundry services, regular meals and a place to store belongings.

“From a public health and safety perspective, access to safe drinking water, sanitary services, and environments free of rodents, physical, biological and fire hazards is important.”

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage speaks at a press conference on Feb. 7, 2024. (Bruce Frisko/CTV News Atlantic)

At the news conference, Cathie O’Toole, CAO for Halifax, said there are approximately 100 people living in designated camping sites and the city plans to work with them to find housing spaces.

“This isn’t the end of our work, it’s really the beginning of our work,” O’Toole said. “We have to give the notice so people will actively engage with us. As long as we’re providing an alternative option then we’re not getting the individual connections with people we need to have.”

Last month, the province opened a $3 million emergency shelter at the Halifax Forum and Community Services Minister Trevor Boudreau expressed frustration over the fact many of the beds were left empty.

“We have a space that is available, we have capacity there right now, we know that being in a warm place, a safe place, it's a safer place than being outside in a tent where you’re in the elements or there’s risk of fire,” Boudreau previously told CTV News.

In late January, a person was injured by a fire at the Grand Parade encampment. In the release, the municipality said fire crews have responded to more than 110 calls for service in relation to the encampments, included multiple tent fires, in the last year.

“Encampments pose a danger to the community at large,” the release says. “There has been violence arising from encampments, accumulations of human feces, biohazardous waste, weapons and drug paraphernalia surrounding encampments, significant food waste leading to issues with rodents, as well as uncontrolled fires and propane cylinder explosions.

“The number of calls to 311, as well as calls for service to police and fire, have increased significantly over the past year. The type of calls range from reports of litter and the presence of new encampments to emergency calls related to emergency medical issues, fires, assaults and weapons.”

Max Chauvin, director of housing and homelessness for the municipality, said they plan to work with people on a one-on-one basis to figure what they need to leave the encampment sites and go to alternative housing.

“We know a shelter is not an option for everyone and the province has confirmed it has other options,” he said. “The closure of the Cobequid ball field will create a tiny homes community and later this year that community will provide housing for 62 people.

“If someone says they’re not going to go, that’s not the end of the conversation that’s the beginning. Sheltering outside is not a housing solution at all. All of the research we’ve done with folks is at the end of the day people don’t want to stay outside in a tent.”

Halifax also de-designated Beaufort Avenue Park and Martins Park on Wednesday, claiming they have not been used for outdoor sheltering since they were initially designated last fall.

The release says supports including transportation of people and belongings and information about shelter services, have been made available to people living in encampments.

“The municipality will continue to treat people experiencing homelessness with dignity while working to find ways to best support them within its capacity and scope,” the release says. “This includes enhanced efforts on the ground, collaborating with Street Navigators, the province and its service providers to actively work with and offer supports to anyone experiencing homelessness in the Halifax region.” 

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