Chronicle Herald: Group says HRM taking 'combative role' over temporary shelters for homeless

Posted January 26, 2021

About 40 people braved the cold at the Dartmouth Commons on Monday morning to “stop encampment evictions” after Halifax Mutual Aid says it received word that the Halifax Regional Municipality ordered the removal of two temporary shelters it recently set up on municipal land.  

Representatives from Halifax Mutual Aid, Nova Scotia ACORN and others stood along the gates of the Leighton Dillman Park next to a sign that read “Housing is a human right.” Together, the crowd chanted the words "Housing is a right where you sleep at night." 
In December, Halifax Mutual Aid, a group of volunteers who wish to remain anonymous, announced their plans to start building small, watertight, insulated shelters for anyone sleeping rough in the city. 
About a week ago, the group built one of the “crisis shelters” for a man named Paul in a thicket of trees, across the street from the Dartmouth Commons.
Halifax Mutual Aid says it put up another temporary shelter on the site with Paul’s permission on Saturday, but heard the next day that HRM was going to remove both structures — a claim the municipality has since refuted. 
Lack of clarity 'concerning'
In collaboration with Nova Scotia ACORN, the group organized the demonstration to "stop encampment evictions" and encouraged people to call and email their local councillors in support of their temporary housing solution. 
“We’re here today because yesterday afternoon, a local street navigator sent us word that the (chief administrative officer) and the city were going to remove both structures,” said Kevin, a Halifax Mutual Aid representative who didn’t disclose his last name over safety concerns. 
“We don’t understand why the city is taking seemingly a combative role against us, when only a couple days ago, they shared words of support and compassion.”
Kevin said HRM has since “either backtracked or clarified that they will not be removing any as long as they’re occupied.” 
He added it’s “concerning” that there’s no clarity on how long a shelter can be vacant before it’s ordered to be removed, seeing how the second shelter was occupied hours after it was set up by a homeless individual. 
“This is really the only true Band-Aid solution that anybody has done in this city for years. This is not a long-term solution, but this is getting people out of the cold,” Kevin said.
Encampment evictions will not happen
In a statement issued Monday, HRM said it takes an “empathy-based human rights approach to homeless encampments” and will not force the eviction of residents from encampments “unless and until their need for adequate housing is met.” 
“While the installation of structures, including temporary shelters, on municipal property is not permitted without approval, the municipality aims to work with Halifax Mutual Aid to identify alternate options for those experiencing homelessness,” the municipality added. 
Province needs to address crisis: councillor
Dartmouth Centre Coun. Sam Austin reaffirmed the statement. 
“HRM has a no eviction policy. We do not go in and remove somebody’s only shelter. That’s a really aggressive, cruel and inhumane approach. That’s not what we do,” he told The Chronicle Herald.
Austin said the real concern is that Halifax Mutual Aid dropped off the second shelter in a location before anyone was actually living there. 
“What it really comes down to, is, is it reasonable that a third-party, anonymous organization with no consultation with the city, no consultation with residents, no discussion even with the homeless, is just going to decide where to drop shelters all around town?” he added.    
If Halifax Mutual Aid is going to continue to build shelters, Austin said the group should instead put them “where the homeless people actually are rather than artificially creating an encampment situation.” 
However, Austin also stressed that temporary shelters are “not a solution at all, it’s an imperfect Band-Aid” but acknowledged that "it’s an improvement” for homeless individuals like Paul to have some form of shelter. 
In order to address the ongoing housing crisis, Austin said the provincial government needs to step in and build affordable “off-market” and “supportive” housing, offer higher provincial assistance rates and build more shelter space. 
“From a municipal point of view, it’s very frustrating, because all of those things are provincial,” he said. 
'House the homeless,' says man who moved into temporary shelter
Andrew Goodsell, who has been in and out of homelessness for seven years, moved into the second temporary shelter built by Halifax Mutual Aid on Saturday.
He calls the shelter a “very sad, pitiful way of trying to give someone a hand,” but said it’s “the best thing that’s ever happened and it’s from the people, not the city.”  
Prior to moving into the shed, Goodsell spent months sleeping rough with a sleeping bag in different parts of Halifax, including outside of Cornwallis Park and on Spring Garden Road. 
He said he’s happy to be in the temporary shelter, which protects him from the elements, but ultimately hopes HRM will give people like him safe and long-term housing so they can find work and “be their best.”
“House the homeless. Plain and simple. There’s nothing else. The city wants to do something about this? Finally do something about this,” Goodsell added.
A spokeswoman with the provincial Housing Department said finding housing for those who need it continues to be a group effort. 
"Recently the province invested an additional $1.7 million for 40 new shelter beds with our partners at the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, and the North End Community Health Centre.  In addition to this investment, we are making the single largest investment to address homelessness in the province's history.  The Integrated Action Plan to Address Homelessness will invest more than $20 million over five years, and we’re already seeing positive results," she said. 
"Our housing locator in Halifax has been able to access 140 units since June 1 to support families and individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness.  We’ve also had success finding housing for 647 individuals across the province through housing support workers working with not-for-profit and private sector landlords and developers since April 1," she said.
As of Jan. 19, 489 people are experiencing homelessness in HRM, according to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia. 
Article by Noushin Ziafati for the Chronicle Herald


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