HALIFAX — It may be necessary to use police to clear homeless people from a tent encampment in a city park because “extensive” alternative efforts have not worked, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said Thursday.
Last month, the city cited health and safety concerns, including a rat infestation, as it told people living in Meagher Park they had to leave by July 17 so work could begin to clean up the park. People without housing have been staying in the park for about a year.
“People have a right to housing. It doesn't mean that they have a right to choose exactly where they want to be housed, as long as we give them reasonable, safe, accessible, sustainable options,” Savage said in an interview.
“And that's what we've been working towards,” he said, noting the creation of 64 modular housing units in Halifax and Dartmouth and planned affordable housing projects with the provincial and federal governments.
The Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia reported that as of Tuesday, there are 643 unhoused people in Halifax, a number that’s risen by more than 20 since mid-June. The city has 200 shelter beds.
During a special meeting Tuesday, municipal councillors endorsed a plan allowing the city to call on Halifax Regional Police to remove those still living in Meagher Park after the deadline for leaving passed.
Max Chauvin, the city special projects manager for homelessness, said during the meeting that neighbours of the park are distressed by the presence of people camping in tents and there have been reports of violence and shouting at the park as well as feces and needles.
"We have people who have reported to us that they’ve developed PTSD from those experiences," Chauvin told council.
In June, the city approved four parks where up to 32 people without homes can set up tents and receive services including running water and bathrooms, but Meagher Park, near the city's downtown, was not on the list.
Savage said the city is not considering making Meagher Park a designated tenting site because it is near a school and playground, but the city is willing to establish more outdoor sites for sheltering if it identifies more “suitable locations.”
Calista Hills, a volunteer who works with the people living in Meagher Park, saidin an interview Tuesday that some of the nine people currently living there have considered moving to one of the four approved tent sites, but they fear losing the sense of community and the support provided at the park.
Hills is concerned that the city’s decision to involve police in a park eviction could result in violence, as it did last August when police used pepper spray and arrested 24 people protesting the dismantling of temporary wooden shelters outside the former public library.
Savage said the city and the police “do not want this to be escalated to a difficult situation.”
Halifax housing advocacy groups P.A.D.S. Community Network said in a statement Tuesday that Nova Scotia’s response to the growing housing and homelessness crisis is inadequate and “police evictions of people in tents and shelters are wrong, especially when there are no better options.”
The mayor said city outreach staff are still working to connect with people in the park and see if they’re willing to move voluntarily.
If the city decides it is time to bring in the police, the executive director of parks and recreation will make the call to Halifax Regional Police. Savage did not give a timeline for when the city might make this call.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
The Canadian Press