Contrary to a motion of council, municipal staff are still recommending Halifax Regional Police be called in to enforce the city’s plan to limit tenting to a handful of parks.
The recommendation comes in a report to Halifax regional council ahead of its meeting on Tuesday. It’s a response to a motion from early May, when municipal staff were recommending 16 municipal parks be used for a maximum of four tents each. Some of those sites were slated for long-term, repeated use, but most were overnight, where people would be forced to leave every day at 8am. As the Halifax Examiner reported last month, council asked for some tweaks:
“In my opinion, having overnight camping and then having someone — police or bylaw, whomever — shake that tent and say, ‘OK you’ve got to leave’ at 8am is problematic,” said Coun. Tony Mancini.
“It’s a potential for conflict to occur.”
[Coun. Waye] Mason agreed, and moved an amendment to cut the overnight idea from the plan, and have staff look at which of those parks could host long-term tent sites “to ensure adequate supply to meet demand.” That amendment passed.
The new report recommends eight tent sites spread across four parks with up to four tents at each site, for a total of 32 permitted tents. Four of the sites are in the green space along Barrington Street; two at Green Road Park in Dartmouth; and one each at Lower Flinn Park in Halifax and Geary Street in Dartmouth.
Max Chauvin, parks and recreation special projects manager, and Maggie MacDonald, parks and recreation executive director, wrote that the 32 spaces should be enough to meet demand.
“This is more than the number of persons currently identified by staff as sleeping rough in municipal parks. Based on the April 2022 Point in Time Count, while there are more people than this sleeping rough in the community, many are not sheltering in a park space,” Chauvin and MacDonald wrote.
“While the overall number of people sleeping rough is expected to increase, this is likely to be offset as new supportive housing options are brought on-line by the province.”
Eric Jonsson, the street navigator who led the point in time count on April 7, told the Examiner he doesn’t think the spaces will meet demand.
“However, if some of the approved locations are outside of the core where all of the social services exist, then those sites might be empty, and the sites closer to downtown might be overfull,” Jonsson wrote in an email.
“I am always curious about how many homeless people they talk to when writing these reports. When we did our data analysis session with folks with lived experience, nobody had heard about the sanctioned camping sites, and most thought the proposed sites were too far away to be useful to them.”
There’s no indication from the report that there was any consultation with unhoused people. At last month’s meeting, Chauvin told council he had conversations with “two people that have identified that they have lived experience with sleeping rough.” The municipality has long promised to strike a “lived experience committee,” and says the United Way is working on it. There’s no timeline for that committee’s creation.
Charlene Gagnon, the data analyst on the point in time count, stressed that with warming weather, there are likely more people unhoused now than there were in April, when the count identified a total of 586 people in the municipality without a safe, permanent home.
The Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia’s by-name list, which is neither a complete or updated accounting of all people unhoused in HRM, totals 612 as of June 8.
Council’s other major concern with the plan last month was enforcement, as the Examiner reported:
Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace was concerned about a lack of an enforcement plan in the staff proposal, wondering how the municipality planned to move people from the parks they’re in now to the designated ones.
“We don’t have the right to exclude someone from a park. We don’t have the right at all to walk in and say, ‘I’m sorry you’re tent No. 5, you have to leave. Oh, you won’t leave? We’re going to call the police.’ And there’s a conflict,” Lovelace said.
“I am totally against more conflict, totally unnecessary conflict.”
Mason brought a successful amendment to address the enforcement concern, noting residents clearly told councillors they don’t want police involved in any enforcement. The amendment directs staff to return to council with a “a timeline and a plan for supporting the transition, education, and implementation that is led and delivered by civilian HRM staff.”
The new report, contrary to that motion, recommends a plan that ultimately relies on Halifax Regional Police for enforcement, which Chauvin and MacDonald have termed “involuntary compliance.”
Chauvin and MacDonald wrote that municipal staff will start with a “restorative, collaborative, and voluntary process,” but “situations exist where this may not occur.” Those include times when someone is in an unsafe location; there’s an “immediate threat to life or property;” health concerns; or a person refuses “to participate in a negotiated re-location.”
“If it is determined that an involuntary compliance approach is required, the Executive Director of Parks and Recreation will refer the matter to HRP and they will be responsible for enforcement, which may include removing the individual. It is intended that an enforcement approach would generally not be considered until all others have been exhausted,” Chauvin and MacDonald wrote.
“Voluntary compliance is always preferred. Steps related to compliance occur over multiple visits unless the concern is urgent or an ongoing repeating problem. Ultimately, should someone refuse to engage in conversations and negotiations, and significant efforts have been made to resolve concerns, HRP may need to be engaged in an involuntary approach to compliance, such as removal of the person from a park space.”
The report is also clear that “sheds,” the emergency shelters built by Halifax Mutual Aid, won’t be permitted in any park. There are currently a few of them at the Geary Street location recommended for tenting, and others scattered in parks elsewhere.
The timeline for the implementation of this new plan is unclear. Council meets at 1pm on Tuesday.