HRM has a new approach to homelessness (again) | The Coast Halifax

HRM has a new approach to homelessness (again)

The city wants to designate specific parks where “camping” is permitted.

A tent thrown away at Victoria Park in Halifax after police evicted residents in the early morning of August 18, 2021.

At Halifax Regional Council's regular meeting on Tuesday, May 3, city representatives will discuss a staff report on housing and homelessness. The report recommends creating designated “overnight sheltering sites” in parks within the municipality and is reportedly part of the city’s changing approach to encampments “based on a reassessment over the last 6 weeks.”

The past six weeks have seen HRM continue to clash with community groups working to prevent homelessness, including Halifax Mutual Aid, which HRM mentions in its newest report. “HMA shelters are not built to the building code and the location of some HMA shelters increases the likelihood of conflict between shelter occupants and neighbours / parks users.”

HRM says in 2021, it received 413 complaint calls about encampments, and so far in 2022 it has received 243. The HRM report also mentions People's Park—officially known as Meagher Park—and a separate council report from April 12 says a “position has been retained for four months to help facilitate the closure of Meagher Park in the short-term.”

Among the criteria for the new designated sites for overnight sheltering is that they can’t be near any of the following: schools, daycares, adult care facilities, active sport fields, dug outs, bleachers, horticultural displays, gardens, cemeteries, environmentally or culturally sensitive areas, blocking a path or right of access, on bridges, docks, wharfs, playgrounds, pools or splash pads.

On top of that, HRM is recommending a maximum of four tents per site. Some sites will be one-night only stays (an individual can set up a tent after 8pm but must remove it by 8am the following morning) and others will be multiple-night stay locations where an individual can leave a tent up all day. The report lists 11 potential one-night only sites and five potential long-term sites.

P.A.D.S. Community Network released a statement in response to the report Monday morning, criticising the city for its lack of input from unhoused residents. “It would be a violation of encampment residents to allow their forced removal to relocate them in a space that they had no opportunity to input into the design of,” says the statement from P.A.D.S.

Council will vote on whether to accept the report’s recommendations during Tuesday's virtual council meeting. Alternatively, council could change the details to set other criteria, or amend the parks bylaw to “permit sheltering anywhere in municipal parks.”

And that’s not the only housing-related news in the city. Last week, the local Catholic Archdiocese applied to keep its 20 emergency shelters open past the original end-of-May close date.

Finally, over on Cogswell Street, the Halifax Modular units are ready for move-in. HRM says 36 of the 38 units already have occupancy permits, and the two accessible units and kitchen were just completed today (Monday, May 2). The province has selected Out of the Cold, the same group that has overseen the Dartmouth modular units since they opened in January, as the service provider.