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Five homeless encampments in Halifax facing eviction deadlines

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HALIFAX -

As Halifax's deadline for people to leave five homeless encampments passed Monday, a couple expecting a child said they intend to remain at one of the sites because they have no other options.

Ron Richards said he and his pregnant wife returned late last week to sleeping in an ice-fishing tent pitched in a downtown city square because the shelter they had been in felt unsafe and they had nowhere else to go.

"We're going to have to stay here. We've got no other place, nothing. And I'm trying every day," Richards said in an interview Monday, adding that he searches online daily for apartment and room rentals and has tried to get into provincial public housing with no success.

Richards said that since moving back to the encampment at the square known as the Grand Parade, he had expected to hear from Halifax outreach workers to learn about alternative housing options, but he and his wife haven't heard from anyone.

In hopes of finding a place indoors, Richards said he recently called the transitional housing shelter established by the province in a former hotel across the harbour in Dartmouth, but he was told there was nothing available for them.

"I'm a licensed mechanic by trade, but I can't find work in order to afford rental housing because I can't leave her alone, pregnant in a tent," he said. "It's just so hard. We're just normal people. The government won't help us."

On Feb. 7, the municipality asked unhoused people staying in tents at the Grand Parade and four other authorized encampments to leave by Monday. The city said the encampments are a safety risk and better housing options are available, including at the Halifax Forum, a shelter with 70 beds located in the north end of the city.

Tents are pictured at Halifax's Grand Parade on Feb. 26, 2024.

Some unhoused residents say the Forum shelter is worse than the Grand Parade because it lacks privacy and security. Some say the shelter -- an auditorium-like space with cots separated by yellow curtains -- doesn't provide the same level of safety, comfort or support afforded to people tenting in the downtown square.

Richards and his wife stayed at that shelter briefly, but they left because they were not permitted to stay together. "And she doesn't like to be there by herself because of all the drugs and stuff that's going on at the Forum. She's scared to be there by herself," he said.

The encampment at Grand Parade that had been home to more than 30 homeless residents at its peak had about 12 tents still set up Monday afternoon. Steve Wilsack, a volunteer at the encampment, said between 15 and 20 people were still living there.

"I can tell you that all the residents here will be here tomorrow because there's no place for our residents to go," he said.

Wilsack, who's been providing support at the Grand Parade for more than three months, said it's "just wrong on so many levels" to move people during winter from a site that has power outlets, propane heaters and portable toilets. "This is inhumane," he said. "This is a catastrophe."

More than 30 people came out to show their support for the Grand Parade residents Monday morning, some holding signs that read "Housing not evictions" and "Affordable housing now," but much of the crowd had dissipated by late Monday afternoon.

The Halifax Regional Municipality said no one from its housing team was available for an interview on Monday.

Tents are pictured in Halifax's Victoria Park on Feb. 26, 2024.

In a statement on Sunday, the city said 25 of the approximately 55 people staying at the five encampments under evacuation orders had accepted indoor shelter options. It said it expected everyone else to leave by Monday, adding that there would be a "measured approach" to address those who refuse.

Halifax's chief administrative officer Cathie O'Toole has said the city has the "legal authority to remove people."

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 people experiencing homelessness. Clashes broke out between police and demonstrators on streets lined with shops and cafes, and protesters were sprayed in the face with chemical irritants.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2024.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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