An encampment at a Halifax park, where unhoused people have lived in makeshift shelters since August, could soon be dismantled.
People have been living in tents in Meagher Park, on the corner of Chebucto Road and Dublin Street, all fall and winter. Known to volunteers, residents, and community members as “People’s Park,” the site became a refuge to those forcibly evicted from other public parks on August 18, 2021.
In an email to P.A.D.S. Community Network on Tuesday, Halifax’s top-ranking bureaucrat, CAO Jacques Dubé, told volunteers he was “optimistic that in the coming weeks [they would] participate in a process to peacefully close the park and move those in need of shelter to safe housing.”
P.A.D.S., a grassroots organization created following the park evictions, helped residents set up the park, but doesn’t run it.
Dubé’s email comes after multiple weekends where Halifax Regional Police (HRP) told residents and volunteers at the park to dismantle newly-built wooden structures, something the city has largely tolerated since the encampment was set up.
The Examiner requested an interview with Dubé, but a spokesperson for HRM said he was unavailable.
Since the August evictions, HRM has allowed camps in public parks, including People’s Park, which, at its peak, was home to about 30 homeless people living in tents. A handful remain at the site now, though tents, supplies, and debris still cover the ground.
In its response to Dubé’s email, P.A.D.S. said they would not assist with dismantling the park, and that they have “no say over the People’s Park and do not determine how those who reside there may react to HRM operations to close the park down.”
Instead, P.A.D.S. told Dubé they would do what they could to support unhoused people as they transition into permanent housing.
Call on HRM to reassess bylaw
Earlier this week, P.A.D.S. said, they sent emails to all HRM’s councillors, asking them to reassess the city bylaw that prohibits camping in public parks. Under that bylaw, camping is prohibited, “unless by permission.” P.A.D.S. is asking HRM to consider granting that permission to unhoused people.
“Until there is enough housing and ample and stable sheltering for all unhoused persons there will be a need for people to take up space in public places,” P.A.D.S. wrote in its email to Dubé. “There needs to be allowances made to permit unhoused persons to shelter in public spaces without risking criminalization.”
In an interview on March 4, P.A.D.S. volunteer Rachelle Sauvé told the Examiner the network was concerned about a repeat of the August 18 park evictions.
“We know that there’s going to be more people who need to tent come spring. They’re already sort of coming out of the woodwork as the weather gets nicer,” Sauvé said.
“That’s not because people want to live in a place like this. It’s because they’re actually scared of being on their own without public eyes on what’s happening, because police and the HRM have been coming in. And we’re terrified that as soon as spring happens, that will come in greater force without there being places to actually send folks.”
Police tell volunteers to stop construction in park
It’s been a long winter at People’s Park; though the numbers fluctuate, there have consistently been at least five to 10 residents sleeping outside. Residents have been lighting fires in the park in an effort to keep warm, and volunteers have helped build tent platforms using wood they purchased with donated funds. There is one tent onsite reserved for supplies and food, but volunteers say that’s not enough. Storing everything from clothing to food in one place has been cramped and created unnecessary conflict, they said.
On February 25, volunteers tried to build a new structure, a makeshift pantry to store the park’s food supply.
“We were going to do basically a wooden frame,” said park volunteer Laura Patterson in an interview. “The police came and told us to stop. And then at night they came in and they tore it down.”
The next weekend, still frustrated, the volunteers tried again. This time, they tried building a raised wooden platform for a tent to sit on, something Patterson said they’d done countless times. Again, HRP showed up at the park, and told them to dismantle the structure.
Patterson said HRP told the volunteers they would be ticketed or arrested if they didn’t stop building. The volunteers stopped again and took the platform apart. HRP left the materials in the park.
Constable John MacLeod, spokesperson for HRP, confirmed in an emailed statement that officers told volunteers the structure was illegal and that there was “potential for enforcement” if they didn’t take it down.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for HRM said those living in People’s Park would be offered “alternate accommodations” by the province. This would include placement in the modular units currently under construction in Halifax, which will accommodate 38 residents. The units were supposed to be ready before the winter, but after multiple delays are now expected to be completed early May.
Lindell Smith, councillor for Halifax Peninsula North where People’s Park is located, wrote in an email to the Examiner that it was always the city’s intention to move residents out of the park once the modular units were completed.
HRM has promised alternate accommodations before. Emails obtained by The Coast in November via Freedom of Information request revealed Dubé told councillors alternative shelters were in place for all those being evicted in August. Many of those evicted on August 18 ultimately set up camp in People’s Park.