4 areas approved for homeless camping in Halifax region
Two municipal parks, two green spaces to be used by people experiencing homelessness
Two areas in Halifax and two areas in Dartmouth have been approved for people experiencing homelessness to camp.
On Tuesday, Halifax regional council voted unanimously in favour of allowing camping at Lower Flinn Park in Halifax, a green space on Barrington Street between Cornwallis and North streets, a green space on Geary Street in Dartmouth and Green Road Park in Dartmouth.
"We're going to make a difference. It's a lot of work. And we always have to keep in mind those who need our help, who have no place to sleep. That's what it's about," Mayor Mike Savage said before the vote.
According to a staff report, the sites would allow 30-plus people "to sleep rough in the community." That's more than the number of people who are currently sleeping in parks, according to the report.
An additional 616 people are on a list for subsidized housing.
The areas were chosen because they met certain criteria including being at least 50 metres away from schools, daycares, playgrounds or cemeteries. They're also relatively close to public washrooms and public transit.
People camping at these sites will be expected to follow municipal regulations like noise bylaws and a ban on fires. Municipal compliance officers will be asked to enforce this, not Halifax Regional Police.
"Halifax Regional Police (HRP) should not be a primary response to many of the issues surrounding homelessness. HRP should be focused on the prevention and resolution of crime," the report stated.
Councillors brought up many concerns about the plan, including confusion about park locations, how the police would be involved and the total number of people who would be camping.
"For example, Lower Flinn Park," said Coun. Shawn Cleary. "I bring this up because there's Flinn Park and there's Lower Flinn Park and as you can appreciate I've spent the last two days answering about 30 emails from folks who live near Flinn Park saying, 'Why are you putting folks at the bottom of our kid's sledding hill?' "
Cleary wanted to know how campers would know not to camp in the wrong area.
Max Chauvin, special projects manager for Halifax park and recreation, said he does expect there to be confusion. He said they will put up signs that make it clear where people can and can't camp.
The two Dartmouth locations are in Coun. Sam Austin's district. While he acknowledged those sites made sense to use, he said there are some residents in his area who don't want a permanent encampment.
"Geary Street makes sense. It's near services, it's centrally located, there was nothing else going on in that space previously," Austin said. "As much as some of the folks don't want it nearby — it's not issue-free — there are some legitimate concerns."
"We had a fire there just over the weekend. There are legitimate concerns that people have, particularly women not feeling safe walking through there anymore."
Savage acknowledged the campsites weren't a "perfect" solution.
"Better is probably going to be where we go in the short term," Savage said.