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Residents of central Halifax homeless encampment relocate


Residents of a central Halifax homeless encampment were forced to relocate Monday as workers cleared out the site -- one week after a municipal deadline passed for it and four other sites to be vacated.

Fencing was installed around the perimeter of Victoria Park Monday morning, and the municipality's executive director of community safety Bill Moore was on site alongside city workers who were putting tents, food waste and unclaimed belongings in the garbage.

Moore said many people who had been camped in the park have moved elsewhere, and some of them will be setting up their tents one block away on a grassy berm along University Avenue.

"People have a right to make a decision. Not every housing option is right for everybody," Moore said Monday.

"So there are some that looked at the options presented to them and decided they'd rather continue to sleep rough. So what we're asking is that if you're going to sleep rough, we'll provide another location, but it can't be this location."

Moore said Victoria Park has a concerning rat infestation, and people who want to continue sleeping in a tent can do so at one of the four remaining designated encampment sites -- including the University Avenue green space.

"We'll keep cleaning up here and moving some things, relocating some of the usable materials. But I was told a lot of tents here have been chewed by rats, so a lot of them are going into the dumpster," he said.

On Feb. 7, Halifax asked unhoused people living in tents at Victoria Park and four other previously authorized encampments -- including one in front of city hall -- to leave by Feb. 26. The city said the encampments are a safety risk and indoor housing options are available, including at the Halifax Forum, a shelter with 70 beds located in the north end of the city.

A 55-year-old man who said he has been living in a tent at Victoria Park since late November was one of a handful of people who packed up Monday to move a block south to the University Avenue site.

The man, J.P., who declined to give his last name, said he is seeking supportive housing that can help him take care of his mental health, and in the meantime he will continue to stay in an ice-fishing tent provided to him by a volunteer.

"I've been living here all winter. I have survival skills training, so I've been able to live quite comfortably," he said in an interview Monday. "I don't have a heater or anything, I've got blankets. I do it the old-fashioned way," he added with a laugh.

J.P. said he's moving because he wants to follow the city's rules and avoid confrontation, but he's not happy with how the municipality has handled its encampments. "They should have talked to us, seen what we need, not just what they think we need," he said, adding that there aren't enough affordable or public housing options in the region.

A 50-year-old woman who has been staying in Victoria Park for more than six months said Monday she plans to stay put despite the order to leave.

Moore said if people refuse to leave, the municipality has "legal mechanisms in place, if we have to use them," though he did not elaborate on what those mechanisms are. He declined to say if police will physically remove people.

Meanwhile, a volunteer at an authorized encampment site in Dartmouth said the space is jam-packed and has no room for new residents.

Pam Taylor, who volunteers at the Green Road Park encampment near the MacDonald Bridge, said there are two dozen people living at the site in tents and cars.

"We've gone from 12 to 24 (people) basically in the last couple of weeks ... It is a challenge for us," she said in an interview Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2024.

-- With files from Michael Tutton

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