Nova Scotia

People who left Halifax encampment to stay in hotel rooms unexpectedly told to leave

People experiencing homelessness who've been living in Dartmouth hotel rooms booked by the city say they were unexpectedly told to move out Wednesday, leaving outreach workers scrambling to find other options.

Mayor Mike Savage says city was under the impression people could stay in the rooms 'longer term'

Malcolm Kay, seen here at Meagher Park in Halifax, says he was given a day's notice to leave a Dartmouth hotel where he'd been staying. (CBC)

People experiencing homelessness who've been living in Dartmouth, N.S., hotel rooms booked by the municipality say they were unexpectedly told to move out Wednesday, leaving outreach workers scrambling to find other options.

Malcolm Kay had been staying at the Comfort Inn on Windmill Road in Dartmouth for the past week and thought his situation was "solid" until he could find his own place.

But on Tuesday, Kay said hotel staff told him and a few others they had to leave the next day.

"It's like, am I ever going to get to see my daughter again? Like, how am I going to start building up again?" Kay said Wednesday at Meagher Park in Halifax, where he planned to stay the night in an encampment on the property.

"I was trying to get things organized."

Kay said hotel staff were very kind, but told him the rooms had long been booked for other customers and were always going to be unavailable as of Sept.15.

Meagher Park, also called the People's Park by those living and volunteering there, has been the site of a growing tent and shelter encampment since last month when city staff and police forcibly evicted dozens of people from municipal land.

Mayor Mike Savage said the Comfort Inn in Dartmouth ended its arrangement with the city to provide rooms for people experiencing homelessness. (Robert Short/CBC)

Mayor Mike Savage said Wednesday the city has been working with street outreach and provincial housing support workers to pay for hotel rooms, including at the Comfort Inn.

Savage said the rooms were booked two weeks ago, and the city was under the impression people could stay there "longer term" past Sept. 15. 

"The hotel have the right to make their own decisions. And so they made the decision that they're not going to house those folks anymore," Savage said.

The Comfort Inn manager declined an interview.

Municipal spokesperson Brynn Budden said Wednesday eight former residents of Meagher Park had been staying at the Comfort Inn as of last weekend. The hotel asked two to leave and another person was moved into a "better option" by a service provider.

The remaining five people were connected to support by Wednesday. Of those, three accepted other housing options, one person found their own accommodations, and one chose not to accept any options.

The Comfort Inn on Windmill Road in Dartmouth had 8 people staying there in rooms booked by the city as of last weekend. (CBC)

Kay said he prefers tenting in Meagher Park for now. He has two emotional support ferrets and animals aren't allowed in local shelters. If another hotel room were offered to him, Kay said he doesn't know if he'd accept.

"Next time when I go to one of these places, I'm going to try and see if I can't get it in writing. You know, how long, and how stable it's going to be," Kay said.

"Things are going to have to change."

Eric Jonsson, one of two outreach street navigators in Halifax, said accommodating people in hotels is not protected by the Residential Tenancies Act and the length of time they are allowed to stay is unpredictable.

"I wish we could just dump the money that we're spending in hotels and on all these temporary measures ... into building people permanent housing," Jonsson told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon on Thursday.

Two weeks ago, Halifax council approved two motions related to housing: one to allocate $500,000 to the creation of emergency housing, like hotel rooms and other spaces, and one to devote federal rapid housing initiative funds to create 85 new affordable units.

Savage said part of the issue is hotels are busy at this time of year and it's hard to find ones that will take on people experiencing homelessness, but the municipality is "prepared to pay."

The mayor said he met Wednesday with provincial Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane to talk about how the province can better help people in hotels with mental health and addictions services. MacFarlane expressed support for that, said Savage.

Two wooden emergency shelters and various tents are seen in Halifax's Meagher Park in August. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

"Obviously, you know, we can't wait until next year for those [supports]. We need those now, today," Savage said. "We're prepared to put the money into it ... and we need the province to do the same." 

At Meagher Park, site co-ordinator Rachelle Sauvé said volunteers put up two more tents for people impacted by the Dartmouth hotel evictions Wednesday, bringing the total to 19 tents and two wooden shelters.

The site has been over capacity for some time, but they don't want to turn people away, said Sauvé, a member of P.A.D.S (Permanent, Accessible, Dignified, and Safer) Community Network, which operates the encampment.

The group is asking HRM to stop police from evicting people from tents and shelters, since long-term solutions like affordable housing will take weeks and months to open.

They plan to hold a rally outside city hall on Saturday at 11 a.m. AT.

Savage said the municipality doesn't have "any intention" of moving people, but police have to watch for criminal activity.

A news release Thursday from the municipality said Erica Fleck, the assistant chief of emergency management, has been assigned to lead the city's emergency response to homelessness. The three-month role starts Monday.

Supporting and co-ordinating council's decision to invest $500,000 for emergency housing will be Fleck's primary focus.

Savage told CBC News on Thursday that although housing and homelessness are not municipal responsibilities, he and his staff have been working with the province to find solutions. 

"We're treating it as a crisis," he said. "We want everybody to have a place to go and spend the night and be comfortable and to have the dignity of life that everybody deserves."

With files from CBC Nova Scotia News at Six and CBC Radio's Maritime Noon