1. PRICED OUT, burned out, policed out
Yesterday, the Halifax Examiner introduced our investigative reporting project, PRICED OUT. You can go here for all the details, but I’d like to draw special attention this morning to the public engagement part of the project:
Given the breadth of this crisis, we’re asking for your help in deciding what we should report on, and from what perspective. That’s why we have an ongoing series of reader engagement sessions hosted by Examiner editor Suzanne Rent; we’ve already assigned reporters to stories based on what we’ve heard from readers, but there’s still plenty of time to be heard. You can call or text our housing reporting project message line at 1-819-803-6215, and tell us your story or your concerns. Here are our community sessions:
Thursday, August 26, 6pm to 8pm, Black Cultural Centre Cherrybrook. Click here to register.
Wednesday, September 1, 6 pm to 8pm, Spryfield Lions Centre (the gym). Click here to register.
(Special thanks to Iris for producing the PRICED OUT graphic; she really is amazing.)
I’ve long been saying that the housing crisis is most readily apparent as it affects the very most vulnerable among us — people sleeping rough on the streets and in encampments on city parks and the like — but that the crisis spreads up the income ladder:
The images of baton-wielding and pepper-spraying police violently moving protestors from city workers’ path so that people living in tents could be evicted from the Memorial Library lawn and so that shelters could be torn apart with a chain saw is perhaps the most stark recent example of just how dire Nova Scotia’s housing crisis has become — but it’s not the only example.
Rising housing prices have been making a material difference in people’s lives for years. As rent increases by $100, $200, $500, and more a month, people are moving to lower quality apartments, moving farther from their jobs and schools and grocery stores, living with roommates or family, and often, couch surfing or sleeping rough. The percentage of their income going to rent increases, so the percentage going to quality food and medication and their kids’ clothes goes down.
When housing prices increase, quality of life goes down. People work more and longer hours. Their commuting time increases. Stress and mental anguish build. Time with loved ones is shortened or eliminated.
It was a week ago today that the city of Halifax used police to dismantle homeless encampments around the city. (No matter how councillors want to spin it, that’s exactly what happened: the decision was made to remove the encampments, and so police were called to accompany bylaw officers as the evictions unfolded. Councillors disingenuously say they can’t direct the police, but somebody asked for the presence of police from the start of the operation — dozens of police officers didn’t just happen upon each and every park at the exact moment bylaw officers arrived while searching for donuts or whatever — and that somebody certainly believed they had political support for that call.)
I’ve been trying to make sense of the police action ever since, and to that end several readers recently made me aware of a recent podcast episode, The Climate Apartheid – It Could Happen Here, which focuses in large part on the aftermath of the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which destroyed the town of Paradise. The podcast is in turn based in large part on an article by Naomi Klein in the Intercept, “A climate dystopia in Northern California.” Both the podcast and the article detail the effects of tens of thousands of suddenly homeless people descending on the neighbouring city of Chico.
I lived in Chico for about 18 years, and I wrote about the Camp Fire, here. I keep up with my friends and the goings-on in the area as best I can from a continent and a country away, so I’ve known about these issues, but Klein in particular brings needed context to the situation. She writes:
[W]hen this region was hit by the deadliest wildfire in California’s history… [Chico] made national headlines for the warm welcome it offered to the thousands of evacuees who fled the ferocious firestorm that had engulfed the town of Paradise. Multiple shelters were set up, and the parking lot of the Chico Walmart was transformed into a sprawling campground and soup kitchen, with residents donating tents and sleeping bags, volunteers serving hot food, and Chico State students organizing team sports and other activities for the Paradise kids. Many opened their homes and spare bedrooms to strangers. The outpouring of neighborly love and mutual aid was such a bright spot amid the fire’s destruction that it made the New York Times. Mark Stemen, a professor of geography at California State University in Chico, memorably put it to me like this: “A tsunami of fire and terror rolled down the hill from Paradise. But that tsunami was buffeted by a blanket of love and comfort” when evacuees arrived, by the thousands, in his home city. [Stemen and I were friends and worked closely together, but we haven’t kept up.]
That was in November 2018 and the months following. But then, earlier this year, the situation changed; Klein again:
It’s a ritual that has been repeated many times over the coldest months of Northern California’s winter. The Chico police arrive between 9 a.m. and noon on a Thursday, perhaps in the hopes of catching people when they are home. Home, in this case, being flimsy tents, draped in tarps, many of them strung up between pine trees, secured to fences, or hidden beneath highway overpasses. The cops read out orders and sometimes hand out flyers: You have 72 hours to clear all of your belongings or they will be destroyed.
Before the deadline, volunteers usually show up with trailers and pickup trucks to help with the move. They load up bicycles, coolers, and cats, as well as clothing stuffed in suitcases, plastic laundry baskets, and garbage bags. Then they drive around this scrappy city in the Sacramento Valley looking for a new place to set up camp — only to have police show up a few days or weeks later and repeat the whole wrenching eviction again.
In April, Chico’s anti-homelessness sweeps drew a harsh rebuke from a federal judge, who accused the city of willfully violating the law by flouting its legal obligation to provide viable shelter alternatives to its unhoused residents. Even in California, where the lack of affordable housing has reached epidemic levels in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Chico — an outdoorsy college town — stands out for the ruthlessness with which its city government and police have turned on unhoused residents. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California recently condemned the city for failing “to address the needs of its unhoused population while simultaneously passing ordinances that criminalize everyday behavior unhoused people undertake to survive.”
Adding a dystopian layer to this story: According to a survey by the Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care, about a quarter of Chico’s unsheltered residents lost their homes in the 2018 Camp Fire which burned the neighboring town of Paradise to the ground, taking the lives of 85 people. For this reason, Chico’s war on the unhoused may be providing a grim glimpse into an eco-authoritarian future, in which the poor victims of climate change-fueled disasters are treated like human refuse by those whose wealth has protected them, at least in the short term, from the worst impacts of planetary warming.
War on the unhoused, eh?
But come on, Bousquet, there’s no parallel between the climate disaster refugees in Chico and the situation in Halifax.
Well, no and yes. Certainly fires haven’t destroyed thousands of houses in Halifax, making their occupants instantly homeless. But the general social atmosphere in Chico and Halifax is roughly similar: both places are full of kind, charitable people with progressive attitudes. (Klein details Chico’s failed efforts to bring an emergency response to the climate issues, and I couldn’t help but recall Halifax council’s meaningless vote to declare a climate state of emergency.)
And in both cities, the traditional kindness shown to the down-and-out has flipped to siccing the cops on them. Klein:
Today, Chico, with its brutal crackdown on unhoused people in the grips of a deadly pandemic and in the midst of serial wildfire disasters, does not demonstrate community “resilience.” It demonstrates something else entirely: what it looks like when the climate crisis slams headlong into a high-end real estate bubble and social infrastructure starved by decades of austerity….
The combination of factors that has created this crisis in Chico is far from unique to Northern California. After decades of defunding social programs, coupled with wild overfunding of police, a great many communities across the country find themselves stretched too thin to absorb a major shock, particularly when it comes to housing and mental health supports. And without these other tools, every challenge quickly turns into a matter of “public safety.”
Over the past couple of years, I’ve watched as Chico residents post diatribes against the homeless on Facebook. I know some of the posters personally; some are small business owners who were always willing to kick in some product or cash for a charity event, and others are homeowners who worked to raise thoughtful children who are generous in spirit. So it comes as a shock to me to see these same people calling the most vulnerable among them the cruelest names, and assigning the most villainous motives to them.
And the same thing is happening in Halifax.
No, there hasn’t so far been a spectacular single incident of climate disaster here in Nova Scotia — just the slow burn of more storms, higher seas, and cycles of drought and flood that the rest of the planet is experiencing to one degree or another. But there has been the decades-long policies of austerity and the accompanying erosion of social services and government supports for people.
There are dark clouds above, and I fear that the divide unfolding between the have-nots and the have-somes will deepen, with the latter increasingly relying on police violence in an ultimately vain attempt to protect their precarious states.
For sure: no one, absolutely no one, will say “I want the police to beat up homeless people and their defenders in order to protect my precarious state.” Such bluntly conscious clarity would be offensive to one’s understanding of oneself as a kind, charitable, progressive citizen.
Rather, the policing of the ever-growing number of have-nots takes place incrementally, and with plausible deniability. Police budgets are increased beyond reason. Cops are given new sophisticated weaponry and tools of surveillance. Systems of police oversight and civilian control are corrupted.
Even the act of deploying police takes place in a funhouse of obfuscating smoke and distorting mirrors — “I can’t call tell the police what to do,” says the councillor who just voted to increase the police budget and directed city staff to ask for police assistance in eviction actions; “police officers were just protecting themselves,” says the chief of police who sent 200 cops to the Memorial Library lawn.
And how will the kind, charitable, progressive-minded citizenry respond? Will they condemn the policing of the powerless and demand accountability from the politicians and police, or will they look on, approving by their silence?
2. Victoria Hall
“Halifax councillors have approved two developments following public hearings — one on Gottingen Street with four affordable units promised and the other replacing the McDonald’s on Quinpool Road,” reports Zane Woodford.
The Gottingen Street development could be called a Creighton Street development, as it shares the lot with the existing Victoria Hall and faces Creighton, but Victoria Hall is incorporated into the new development application, which includes some upgrades to the historic building.
The application was brought by developer and landlord Joseph Arab, and one of Arab’s existing tenants, Hilary Hlagy, appeared at the meeting to speak about her living conditions:
I’ve been living there for about a year now and would live otherwise, if there were other opportunities. I think we all understand the limitations of housing in Halifax.
Our current property contains multiple health concerns including undisclosed pre-existing mold conditions that cause copious health issues for my family and our cats and pets; a leaking ceiling in the new unit we moved into in the same building that has yet to be fixed; fire maintenance issues including fire extinguishers that expired in 2014; blocked, partially, fire access; faulty fire alarms; and leaking foundations. Once we brought this to Joseph Arab’s and his maintenance team’s attention, maintenance still hasn’t been done and in fact the sprinkler system was further disassembled.
I understand that Halifax is in need of housing. And on paper this building and maintenance, seems like a great addition to the community, but I question the lives and the condition of the maintenance of those buildings and the potential 130 households would be further put into his hands. If he can’t maintain the properties to a healthy and safety condition currently, why should he have more properties?
This article is for subscribers. Click here to subscribe.
Nova Scotia announced 11 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, Tuesday, August 24 — five of the new cases are related to travel and six are close contacts of previously announced cases.
The province is on track to hit the Phase 5 (lifting of most Public Health restrictions) threshold of 75% of the entire population having received two doses of vaccine on or about Sept. 15.
1. The more things change…
Here is a forthcoming article in MacLeans:
“HALIFAX CITY COUNCIL was thunderstruck. The city had been accused, not without justification, of neglecting the homeless for more than one hundred and fifty years. Now, council had made the big decision to move rough sleepers into nonexistent public housing or alternative accommodation in other parts of town. Having made the decision the city sat back to receive the gratitude of the populace. Instead, its sudden generosity was greeted with suspicion and a reluctance to move.
The aldermanic surprise at this reaction was due to a total lack of understanding between the two groups. For years, no one had seriously bothered to find out where the homeless were going to the bathroom, and there was a strong sense that government had no sincere interest in their welfare.”
In 1965, there was an eerily similar article:
“HALIFAX CITY COUNCIL was thunderstruck. The city had been accused, not without justification, of neglecting the Negro slum of Africville for more than one hundred and fifty years. Now, council had made the big decision to raze Africville and move its three hundred and fifty residents into public housing or alternative accommodation in other parts of town. Having made the decision, the city sat back to receive the gratitude of the Negro. Instead, its sudden generosity was greeted with suspicion and a reluctance to move.
The aldermanic surprise at Africville’s reaction was due to a total lack of communication between the two groups. For years, no one had seriously bothered to find out what Negroes were thinking, and Africville residents had a strong sense that white Halifax had no sincere interest in their welfare.”
Reed continues on, with supposed examples of the same kind from 2019 (the human rights commission neglecting the rights of people with disabilities), 1755 (the expulsion of the Acadians), and 1610 (the usurpation of a Mi’kmaw town).
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — live streamed on YouTube
Western Common Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 6:30pm) — live streamed on YouTube
Greening Your Business to Save Money and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint (Wednesday, 12pm) — This webinar will introduce the 50 Shades Greener Method.
Safe Space for White Questions (Wednesday, 12:30pm) — a series of free monthly drop-in sessions.
In the harbour
02:30: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
10:00: One Honolulu, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
15:00: Siem Pilot, offshore supply vessel, moves from Dartmouth Cove to Bedford Basin for deep water trials
07:30: Nordic Vega, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
[insert your own pithy observation here]