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'This has given new life to a lot of the residents': Advocates defend providing electricity to Halifax encampment


Critics have been grumbling online about a recent arrangement that's brought free power to a homeless encampment in Halifax

The man who's led the charge to provide electricity says it's a small concession that should be available in every camp.

"It's amazing. It's the equivalent of running into the woods and handing somebody power," said volunteer Stephen Wilsack. "This has given new life to a lot of the residents. Their ability to charge a phone, to have light, to have devices just to play music."

The source is nearby city hall. The electricity runs from there to a rented generator and backup battery, where it's distributed through cables all over the encampment.

Wilsack, a longtime health and safety officer for the film industry, says it's exactly how they run power on a movie set.

"I'd like to thank the city and Star Power Atlantic and WF White who all came together in order to solve this," he said.

Areas where electrical cables run at Grand Parade have been cordoned off by the city, with warnings that snow clearing will not be provided there. People in the local film industry donated time and money to run power from city hall to the encampment. (Source: Bruce Frisko/CTV News Atlantic)

Wilsack enlisted friends and colleagues from the industry to run the cables, and the set-up was approved by the city and Nova Scotia Power.

"It is a game changer for residents," he said, a sentiment shared by Oshane Anthony Johnson, who's lived at the site since Christmas Eve.

"Usually in tents, when you go camping, you don't have power. So, the power in tents now is different. Everyone's scared of change, but it helps," said Johnson.

Still, with cost of living increases piling up for the new year, some Nova Scotians aren't happy with the arrangement, criticizing it on social media.

They (the homeless) are "getting too much" and being "enabled," said a couple of users.

Another user suggested the set up is a "fire a hazard" and questioned "who's paying the bill?"

And another added many already receive government cheques, and "now they get free power."

Stephen Wilsack, the lead volunteer at Grand Parade, holds a sign provided by the city in an effort to prevent fires at the encampment. One resident lost all his belongings in a fire there on Dec. 9. (Bruce Frisko/CTV Atlantic)

Wilsack has heard the criticism, but remains committed to the idea.

"Other encampments should have power as well," he said. "The bottom line is, we should not have unhoused."

In a statement to CTV News, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said, “We remain focused on working with the province toward more indoor shelter options. Until we have better options, power supply to people sheltering in Grand Parade is a reasonable measure to improve safety.”

In late November, the province said it was working "as quickly as possible" to get additional supports in place, but there have been no details.

In an afternoon statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services said work was ongoing.

"The Windmill Road shelter has expanded to a capacity of 100, with the potential to expand during extreme weather events," said communications advisor Christina Deveau. "We are still working closely with service providers and partners like HRM to determine what other supports we can offer in the near future."

Wilsack says long-term, permanent solutions are what's needed.

"Let's put them in a housing situation. It's going to cost, but the alternative is, if we don't do it, it's going to cost lives."

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

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