Municipal staff

City staff recommend allowing tents in a handful of Halifax-area parks

City staff are proposing the creation of a limited number of city-sanctioned tent sites in response to the housing crisis, but advocates for homeless Haligonians fear the recommendation could lead to forced eviction of people sleeping in the parks municipal.

In a staff report presented to the virtual council meeting on Tuesday, Max Chauvin, manager of parks and recreation special projects, and Maggie MacDonald, executive director of parks and recreation, outlined a plan to allow tents in city parks. HRM.

“Recognizing that some people will be unable or unwilling to accept indoor shelter and that demand for indoor shelter beds exceeds capacity, it is proposed that the municipality designate spaces for outdoor overnight accommodation,” wrote Chauvin and MacDonald.

Tents and emergency shelters are seen in August 2021 in the park on the corner of Dublin Street and Chebucto Road, which locals and campaigners call People’s Park. Photo: Zane Woodford

There were 562 homeless people in HRM as of April 27, according to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, and there are only 220 shelter beds in the municipality.

In response, Chauvin and MacDonald’s plan would allow 20 people to stay in the parks long-term, while allowing another 44 to sleep in some parks overnight.

“It is proposed to designate two types of spaces. The first is for overnight stays only, where a person can set up a tent after 8 p.m. but must remove it and vacate that pitch by 8 a.m. the next morning. The second is multi-night stay places where an individual can pitch a tent and leave it standing for several days and nights. In either case, the designated sites are only intended to provide space for homeless people to shelter, not recreational camping,” Chauvin and MacDonald wrote.

“A maximum of 4 tents per site is proposed in order to contain the size and complexity of managing the sites. Depending on the configuration of the site, some pitches may only be able to accommodate a smaller number of tents.

Locations are chosen based on several criteria, including that they are not near schools and playgrounds or even “exhibitions or horticultural gardens”. Long-term locations would have sanitary facilities and, where possible, potable water.

The staff report includes a list of proposed locations ⁠—five long-term and 11 overnight. They are mapped below.

Not listed People’s Park, known to the borough as Meagher Park, on the corner of Chebucto Road and Dublin Street. An ever-changing number of people have been living there since the municipality and police evicted people from other parks on August 18, 2021, when police pepper sprayed and arrested protesters defending emergency shelters at the exterior of the old Halifax Memorial Library on Spring Garden Road.

While Chauvin and MacDonald acknowledge that the enforcement actions have traumatized people and damaged trust between HRM and its residents, their report leaves the door open for the same to happen again.

“If the occupant of a tent, shelter or other structure in an area not designated for shelter refuses to move and the occupant has been offered alternative housing or suitable space in a designated area, the municipality may require the occupier to move by enforcement action,” Chauvin and MacDonald wrote.

The PADS Community Network formed to support residents of People’s Park and lobbied councilors to allow lodging in all city parks. According to the new report, councilors said their preferred approach was to select a handful of designated parks.

In a statement on Monday, PADS said Chauvin and MacDonald did not consult with any homeless people when writing the report. Although they recommend working with the United Way to create a committee of people with experience of homelessness, the report does not say whether the authors consulted with homeless people before writing, just “dozens of service providers , responders, staff and residents.”

PADS fears that people now face an increased risk of violent eviction by staff or townspeople.

“In short, this report proposes nothing but more criminalization for homeless residents who already suffer the indignity of homelessness. With the meager addition of 20 outdoor sites with the minimal infrastructure it promises, it robs homeless people of the little security they have found over the past few months, without even the dignity of consultation,” wrote PADS.

“If adopted, this process will undoubtedly lead to homeless people being forced to downgrade their current homes out of fear. It reads like nothing more than a formal procedure before removing homeless people ⁠— and encouraging them to retire from sight.

Similarly, Mutual Aid Halifax, the anonymous volunteer group that has been erecting emergency shelters in the municipality for a year and a half, issued a call to action in response to the report.

“This report threatens violent evictions and further criminalization of our homeless friends and neighbors if they refuse to be forced into inadequate, government-mandated camp sites,” Mutual Aid wrote.

The group wants its supporters to pressure councilors to opt for one of the alternatives listed in Chauvin and MacDonald’s report, to “enable sheltering anywhere in municipal parks”, such as the asked the PADS.

Council meets at 2 p.m., with the meeting streamed here.

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