Collecting heavy winter clothing at People’s Park as temperatures drop.

Ready or not, winter is coming to People’s Park

Residents aren’t sure whether they’ll have to stay when the snow flies, but if they do they’ll need supplies like hand warmers, heavy clothing and flashlights.

As the sun sets on a Friday evening in October, People’s Park is bustling. At the Chebucto Road green space, known as Meagher Park before it became a community of unhoused locals, residents are eating goulash made by a volunteer, someone else is sorting through donated winter jackets and a man plays hacky sack while talking with his friends.

The sun keeps setting, the golden rays of light reflected off nearby windows quickly dipping beyond the horizon. At the park, residents pull out sweaters, some change from shorts to pants, lighting cigarettes and flashlights that dot the darkness.

John Griffin isn’t perturbed. He’s still wearing socks and sandals despite the fact that most nights the temperature drops down to single digits. “I enjoy the cold actually,” he says. “I’m just hoping it gets cold to get rid of the summer.”

Griffin has lived at People’s Park since its founding in August, and says he has no plans of leaving. “I just want to remain here,” he says. “The community of the tenters and myself—it’s been really exhilarating. And like, we’re not all perfect, we will have our moments, but in the very end we’re being ourselves again.”

At the same time, if he was offered a place in one of the city's talked-about modular units, Griffin says he’d “jump on it quicker than anything else.” While he’s happy either way, Griffin understands “there are some people that are worried” about what will happen when the cold weather hits.

HRM told The Coast the modular units, of which 73 are promised, will be here “before the snow flies.” But that time is approaching (usually in November, in case you were wondering), and the city hasn’t given a public update since first announcing the units on September 29.

“I think that myself and a lot of people were excited a couple of weeks ago when we heard from the city that they were going to be doing this modular housing,” says Laura Patterson, a north end Halifax resident and volunteer at the park. “But now it's been weeks.”

Patterson tells The Coast she’s been volunteering with P.A.D.S. Community Network since mid-August and continues to return to the park to help now that P.A.D.S. is no longer constantly onsite. For Patterson, it’s because she could easily see herself in that position.

“I don’t know if everybody in Halifax feels this way, but I feel like we’re all very precariously housed because there’s only the 1.6 percent vacancy rate, which is intensely scary,” she says. “And so I have a lot of empathy for people who through no fault of their own found themselves with nowhere to live.”

The volunteer work Patterson has done includes collecting and distributing donations via callouts on social media, supervising the site at the People’s Park and making dinners like she did tonight’s goulash. But as the weather turns colder, she knows she has a place to spend the night while those staying at People’s Park don’t.

“I’m often here till midnight,” Patterson says. “A week ago, I was just kicking myself for not bringing my winter coat cause it was absolutely freezing and it was hard to stay warm. And those tents are really hard to insulate. So people were really, really cold.”

Onsite at the park, there’s a dry erase board of needed items. It’s updated every day and posted to Instagram. Recent asks featured items like cold-weather sleeping bags, heavy jackets and extra blankets.

“It’s a weirdly warm October, but we know in Nova Scotia that like next week, the weather could turn and we could go down to zero. Historically Halloween is really cold,” says Patterson. “And so it's really scary, because I don't think anybody here really thinks that they could make it through the winter in a tent. That's not my impression, it would be basically impossible.”

HRM hasn’t communicated much with the people at the park. A meeting with area councillor Lindell Smith and the city’s de facto housing manager Erica Fleck was postponed two weeks ago due to too much public interest, with no alternative date given. The Coast was denied an interview request with Fleck last week, and an “information report” from city chief administration officer Jacques Dubé at Tuesday’s council meeting had no new information about the timeline for the modular units.

“The municipality is finalizing a Dartmouth location that could accommodate up to 30 clients of the Out of the Cold shelter, as well as other individuals sleeping in HRM parks,” Dubé wrote. “In addition, staff are working to identify and secure a Halifax site to install modular units, with confirmation of the location and number of units able to be placed yet to be determined.” That’s what Fleck told The Coast back on October 14, when she also said she expected the location for the Dartmouth unit to be confirmed that week, ”100 percent.”

“Those modular units, I’m very happy with those, but I’m yet to actually see one in person so I don’t know whether it’s good or bad,” says Victoria Levack, a P.A.D.S. spokesperson, during her recent volunteer shift at the park. Levack says she’s at People’s Park frequently, keeping an eye on things and watching in case police show up. But the cops aren’t the only thing threatening to evict park residents: the cold is beginning to play a factor as well.

“For the last hour and a half I’m here, it gets really cold,” she says. “So if it’s that cold by 8 o’clock, I don’t know what it’s going to be like around 3am.”

As the residents of the park continue to insulate and acquire supplies for winter, there’s no denying it will soon arrive. What’s more up in the air is whether the modular units will arrive and what the setup will be like. And when they are finally in place, that’s not the end of the process. There’s not enough room for everyone—only approximately 73 of HRM’s 400 documented unhoused people. The latest numbers say 25 people are living at People’s Park, but Levack says some are transient or frequently in and out.

And, as Patterson explains, it’s up to the province to contract a service provider who can decide on rules and regulations for the residents of the units.

“The province is not working as hard as they can, as quick as they can, to pick a provider or anything like that for these modular homes,” she says. “There's no way that anybody can set expectations with people here.”

About The Author

Victoria Walton

Once a freelancer, Victoria has been a full-time reporter with The Coast since April 2020, covering everything from COVID-19 to small business to politics and social justice. Originally from the Annapolis Valley, she graduated from the University of King’s College School of Journalism in 2017.

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