Nova Scotia

Halifax won't remove inhabited huts for homeless people

Halifax won't remove occupied huts for homeless people that have popped up on municipal property recently, but it will remove vacant ones, the municipality said Monday.

But HRM says unoccupied sheds built without permission will be removed

The hut gives the occupant a place to leave their stuff during the day and a sheltered place to sleep at night. (Robert Short/CBC)

Halifax won't remove shelters for homeless people that have popped up on municipal property recently if they're occupied, but it will remove vacant ones, the municipality said Monday.

Sam Austin is the councillor for Dartmouth Centre, where a few of the basic weatherproof huts have been erected recently. He said the Halifax Regional Municipality has a no-eviction policy if someone's living in the space. 

"We do not tear down somebody's only shelter," he said. 

He said after media coverage of one hut, a second one was built, but nobody was using it. 

"We're not in the business of just allowing structures to be dropped on municipal property if no one is using them," he said. "There's no blanket licence to build whatever you want on municipal property."

Someone later moved into the hut, so it will stay in place. Austin said Halifax Mutual Aid, the group building the structures, has not spoken to HRM, and because the group wants to remain anonymous, HRM can't reach out to them. 

"Does it make sense to have a third party, an anonymous group, establishing an informal village of sorts with no consultation with residents, the city, or even the homeless themselves about where the best place is for them?" Austin asked. 

He said it would make more sense to build such huts where homeless people actually stay. 

"They're not a solution at all. They're an imperfect Band-Aid to a glaring societal problem," Austin said.

A steel roof and house wrap provide some protection from the elements. (Robert Short/CBC)

Austin pointed out that HRM doesn't build housing (the province does), but can and does help charities that work with people who are homeless. He said the province should build more supportive housing to get people off the streets and to help them deal with addictions or mental health issues. 

'It's a lot better than getting rained on'

Andrew Goodsell has stayed in one of the shelters for the last few days. It has no plumbing or electricity, but he said it's more comfortable than the tent he'd been using. 

"It's a lot better than getting rained on at night and getting beat up by the elements," he said at a protest Monday in favour of the huts.

Goodsell said building the huts on municipal property is appropriate because he believes the city should be housing him. He'd like to be given a bachelor apartment, he said.

The protest by a Dartmouth park Monday came after people heard HRM would be removing some of the huts. One of the people who built the shelters said the structures weren't up to code, but were better than nothing. 

Andrew Goodsell is staying in this hut, built on municipal land in Dartmouth. (Robert Short/CBC)

Jim Graham, the executive director of the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, said it shines a light on homelessness in the Halifax area, a problem that he said has become much more visible during the pandemic.

But the shelters are temporary solutions to a much deeper issue, he added.

Housing 'takes time to put in place'

"The root of the problem right now is not so much shelter space as it is affordable housing, and there's no quick answer," Graham told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon on Monday. "Housing takes time to put in place."

He's happy the municipality has agreed not to remove the shelters, but he said the big question is whether the people living in them have access to the resources they need, such as mental health support.

"I don't think it's an acceptable response to say, 'Here, put your stuff in here and stay here' without making sure that there's support in place," he said.

HRM spokesperson Maggie-Jane Spray echoed Austin's comments that the city won't remove occupied huts. 

"The Halifax Regional Municipality takes an empathy-based human rights approach to homeless encampments that recognizes the human dignity of people experiencing homelessness," she said.

"The municipality will not force the eviction of residents from homeless encampments unless and until their need for adequate housing is met."

She reiterated that people aren't allowed to build structures on municipal property without permission.