It went quiet, just for a split second, outside the old Spring Garden Road Memorial Library site today. It felt like a collective inhale, a pause in the din of protestors, police, city employees and bystanders. As a city worker lifted a chainsaw to one of the temporary shelters on site, chewing it up with its metal teeth, its roar was all that could be heard. Then the split second ended, and the noise of the shelter’s destruction became the basenote to the tumult.
The lawn at 5381 Spring Garden Road has, over the course of the pandemic, become a site for homes for some displaced Haligonians: Tents and squat wooden structures known as “crisis shelters,” built by volunteer organization Halifax Mutual Aid.
In June, HMA had built 13 shelters across the city, and said it had a waiting list of 20 more people. In July, mayor Mike Savage said “We’re not going to move in and force people out,” and the city’s “goal is to treat people like human beings.” But on this August day, city workers and police worked together to destroy these shelters and forcibly remove their occupants.
On-the-ground reports of mace (including a 10-year-old child being maced by officers) and police in hardback gloves and riot gear have been tweeted by journalists at the scene, many of whom were threatened with arrest by police if they neared the shelters. But the old library isn’t the only community uprooted today. Photos of tents being thrown in the garbage at Peace and Friendship Park (located at the corner of Barrington and South Streets) and of police presence at Horseshoe Park and Geary Street in Dartmouth have also been reported.
It is, at this time, unclear where those who lived in these crisis shelters and tents are meant to sleep tonight. Reporters on the scene say shelter inhabitants claim no one from the city has contacted them to discuss housing alternatives.
Halifax Pride cancelled its events planned for the rest of the day, pivoting its setup at the Garrison Grounds (near the library at 5425 Sackville Street) from hosting the Rainbow Pride Run to supporting people in the aftermath of the siege on the shelters. “Anyone in need of washrooms, food, first aid, or active listeners,” Pride tweeted, “our site is open to you until 11PM (or later, if needed) tonight.”
As Haligonians learn about their city’s ugly actions today, concern and compassion are spreading. If you’re wondering what you can do, here are a few ways you can help.
Help someone pay their $237.50 “camping in parks without permission” fine
People living in shelters were issued tickets today for “camping in parks without permission” under city By-Law P-600. Halifax Mutual Aid and Abolish Police Halifax have started a GoFundMe to help cover the costs of people’s fines. Donate what you can. This fund will also cover bail expenses as needed for community organizers and the housing insecure who were arrested at today’s events.
Update: Legal professionals have told The Coast that anyone who has been issued a ticket for camping without permission can take it to court to ask the court for a lower fine.
Let your councillors know what you think
Phone them, email them, tweet them. Your city-level elected officials just gave Halifax Regional Police an extra $2.7 million in April, despite a year of calls to defund the police. Here’s an online directory on how to contact them.
Donate directly to those displaced today
Social media posts indicate that e-transfers are currently being accepted by those the police removed from their homes today, so send any amount to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org with the password: housingjustice.
Update: Donate a tent to Halifax Mutual Aid
The organization has put an urgent call-out for tents, asking folks to DM them on Twitter for details.