Nova Scotia

Report suggests Halifax create sanctioned sites for overnight sheltering

After six weeks of stakeholder engagement, a new report has been prepared for Halifax council in regards to homelessness and encampments in the city. One of the report's main recommendations is for the city to set aside designated overnight sheltering spaces for unhoused people.

The report will be brought to Halifax Regional Council for discussion on Tuesday

An encampment at 'People's Park' in Halifax is shown. The report suggests moving encampments to sanctioned sites. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

A new Halifax council staff report suggests the city create sanctioned areas for unhoused people to shelter overnight.

The report comes after a six-week reassessment of the city's approach to homelessness and encampments. It will be brought to council on Tuesday, where a vote will take place on whether to pursue the recommendations for overnight sheltering sites. 

"This report is so important because it is a culmination of conversations with dozens of stakeholders and residents, community groups, service providers, folks who have lived unhoused. And this report is their voices," said Pam Lovelace, the deputy mayor and counsellor for District 13.

The report examines the current housing and homelessness crisis in Halifax, noting there are 542 unhoused people in the city as of April 19 and only around 200 shelter beds available. 

According to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, the number of chronically homeless people rose 13 per cent in the first three months of this year.

Lovelace noted that the report focuses on the "emergency shelter crisis" in the city.

Pam Lovelace is the city's deputy mayor and councillor for HRM District 13, Hammonds Plains - St. Margaret's (Lyndsay Doyle)

"One of the most important things in this report is separating the difference between the housing crisis and having a vacancy rate of one per cent in the city, and an emergency shelter crisis, which [means] we have shelter beds for not even one-third of the individuals that need shelter," she said. 

Though HRM has often pointed out that housing falls under the jurisdiction of the province, the report aims to identify how the municipality can further its role in addressing homelessness. 

Some of the other recommendations include that the city ensure water and washrooms are available for people experiencing homelessness, and that a first-voice advisory committee is created to include the ideas and experiences of unhoused people in the search for a solution. 

The report also suggested that the municipality "require the removal of, or remove, tents, shelters, or other structures in parks outside of designated areas."

The report also mentioned the distrust and fear many unhoused people have of police. Halifax Regional Police are shown on August 18, 2021, the day police and city staff removed people's tents and shelters on public property. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

There are 16 suggested locations for overnight sheltering mentioned in the report. The areas are split into two categories: overnight or long-term.

The overnight sites would only be available from 8 p.m. onward, and occupants would have to pack up and leave the site by 8 a.m. the next day. 

The long-term sites would allow multi-day stays, but there would be a limit on how many tents could be pitched on each site.

Lovelace said she believes it's a good idea for everyone who isn't able to or doesn't wish to access shelter services to have access to supports and wraparound services, which she said must be available if the designated sites become a reality.

"What's really important is to ensure people are set up for success in any kind of sheltering situation is the connection to community and connection to service providers," she said.

Concerns about over-policing 

But Lovelace said she has concerns about the enforcement of the sanctioned areas and strict times suggested in the report. 

"I am definitely concerned about over-policing unhoused individuals and creating regulations and criteria that strip away their dignity and right to privacy," she said. "Because the last thing that we want is using police to enforce a time limit to be in a park.... And so these are questions that we'll be asking staff on Tuesday to explain to us how they envision this actually being rolled out."

Lovelace said there is no timeline yet as to when the report's recommendations could be put in place if they are accepted.

She said it depends if council comes to an agreement on the criteria and locations, and "how this will actually be rolled out and implemented to benefit those who most need it."

Community group

PADS Community Network, a local group that advocates for the rights of people who are currently unhoused in the HRM, said in a statement it has concerns with the report. 

"It is important to note that no unhoused residents were consulted in the drafting of this report, despite an otherwise wide range of 'stakeholders' who were interviewed," the statement said. 

The group said it is concerned about the process outlined in the report of removing tents and crisis shelters and moving residents to a new location. The report said if a resident refuses to move, "enforcement actions" will ensue. 

"This process is a clear violation of the occupant's rights to housing, and within that, the right to be meaningfully engaged," the statement said. 

The group also mentioned the risk of further criminalizing unhoused people. 

"[The report] reads as nothing more than a formal procedure before removing unhoused people — and encouraging them to remove themselves — from sight."

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