Business association decries lack of communication over downtown encampments

The head of a local business association is not happy about a lack of communication over the municipality’s decision to evict people from downtown tenting encampments.

“We had written a letter asking for the city to come to a decision, so in that respect I’m pleased,” said Sue Uteck with the Spring Garden Area Business Association on Wednesday’s eviction notices handed out to people at five area encampments. “But our community navigator wasn’t aware that was even happening, so that’s our frustration is a lack of communication on this whole crisis.

This was not the way to hand people an eviction notice, I think there could have been a much more compassionate way, to work with our navigators.”

Uteck said local street navigators have been working hard to try to address the difficulties faced by businesses since encampments have grown in downtown Halifax and Dartmouth.

“The mental health issues alone out there is overwhelming,” Uteck told the Todd Veinotte Show. “Most of the stores here either close early or it’s a buzzer to get in and two employees instead of what used to be one.”

Provincial and municipal officials have claimed there is enough space in shelters, pallets and other options for the roughly 55 people living at the five encampments slated to be evicted on Feb. 26, including the ones at Grande Parade and Victoria Park. But many of the residents of those encampments have told local media they don’t want to leave, with some comparing the shelter at the Halifax Forum to a jail.

“If you go visit the shelter you’d see what it’s like,” Stephen Wilsack, a volunteer helping people living outside Grande Parade told CityNews. “Many residents have been there and it’s a traumatic experience.”

Some politicians have said the encampments should not be cleared until more permanent options are available for people.

“Those sleeping outside need permanent housing,” said NDP leader Claudia Chender. “That is not the same as an emergency shelter.”

Municipal officials said the planned to use the three weeks between issuing the notices and the eviction date to work with people living in the encampments in hopes of avoiding another large and violent protest like the one outside the old library on Spring Garden Rd. on Aug. 18, 2021.

“Give us a chance,” Mayor Mike Savage told a Wednesday news conference. “We’re going to try to work with this in an empathetic and human rights way and try to give people some solutions.”

Officials have said Halifax Regional Police won’t be involved in evictions.

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