The municipality’s housing and homelessness director is recommending closing two of the baseball diamonds on the Halifax Common to accommodate the growing number of unhoused people sleeping in tents.

Max Chauvin wrote in a report coming to council on Tuesday that the municipality needs to allow people to sleep in tents at up to 40 more parks over the next 18 months.

“Without dramatic policy changes from other all orders of government around creating and supporting deeply affordable housing options, the municipality must accept that hundreds of people sheltering outside will continue for several years to come and plan accordingly,” Chauvin wrote in the report.

In June 2022, council voted in favour of a plan to designate tent sites in four areas. Those are: the green space along Barrington Street; Green Road Park in Dartmouth; Lower Flinn Park in Halifax; and Geary Street in Dartmouth. The municipality later added another site in Lower Sackville.

Existing sites over capacity

The sites are over capacity. Last month, Chauvin wrote, there were 90 people living in those five areas. They were designed to hold a total of 44 tents. There were 62 other unsanctioned sites in use over the last year, Chauvin wrote, and 30 of those are still active.

A line of tents is seen in a baseball field on a sunny day.
The designated tent site in Lower Sackville in October 2022. Credit: Suzanne Rent

There are almost 40 tents in Victoria Park, 17 in Grand Parade, and several smaller sites with one or two tents.

“Unfortunately, the growth in the number of people experiencing homelessness is expected to continue,” Chauvin wrote. “At the core of the housing crisis is a lack of affordable and deeply affordable housing, along with food insecurity, significant challenges accessing physical and mental health care, and insufficient income.”

A point-in-time count conducted in July found 178 people sleeping outside in HRM. That’s more than double the number in November 2022, 85.

“These surveys do not capture the total count of people experiencing homelessness as some sheltering in rural HRM are not counted, nor are those who are sleeping on a friend or family member’s couch or floor. In addition, some people sheltering in their vehicles are not counted,” Chauvin wrote.

“This growth in homelessness has occurred while, during the past year, the Province of Nova Scotia has added 64 beds to the shelter system and opened 304 new supportive housing units. Without their efforts to address this issue, the number of people sheltering on the street could be more than double what the community is facing now.”

Up to 20 more sites needed immediately

The municipality asked the provincial and federal governments to provide locations for people to tent, Chauvin wrote.

“While the Province initially offered multiple sites for consideration, in the end, none were available to allow unhoused persons to seek shelter on them.”

The municipality needs to add 18 to 20 sites now, Chauvin wrote. And, given the expected growth in the number of unhoused people, it might need to add another 20 later.

To start, Chauvin recommended HRM create a new designated site on the Halifax Common at North Park and Cogswell streets.

“This site will offer 20 spaces for tents and provide an opportunity to reduce overcrowding in both designated and undesignated locations. This site will regularly be monitored to ensure it doesn’t expand into other areas of the Halifax Commons.”

Grand Parade and Victoria Park will also become designated sites, each with a maximum number of tents.

Baseball diamonds to become ‘larger homeless encampment’

Chauvin recommended HRM close two crusher dust baseball diamonds on the north side of the Halifax Common on Oct. 31.

“That space will be converted into a larger homeless encampment. This site is close to a year-round public bathroom, providing residents sheltering outside with toilet facilities, running water, and power. It is also close to needed services. The intention is to provide additional onsite support to residents in this long-term encampment with additional outreach staff and supplies,” Chauvin wrote.

“In upcoming seasons, staff will attempt to redistribute traditional bookings from these diamonds to other locations, but it is anticipated that not all demand will be able to be met.”

The Halifax Common is shown in a satellite image, with the skating oval toward the bottom and six baseball diamonds above.
The crusher dust baseball diamonds are seen at the top of the Halifax Common. Credit: Google Maps

With those space available, Chauvin anticipates there will still be undesignated tent sites.

The new sites will mean added waste collection services and water delivery. That costs up to $30,000 annually per site, Chauvin wrote.

“Municipal expenditures in response to homelessness are increasing and will exceed the budget for this year,” Chauvin wrote.

“Staff will continue to seek funding from other levels of government and clarification of roles and responsibilities. As homelessness becomes more acute and knowledge and experience increase within government and not-for-profit service providers, a shift toward a more integrated and collaborative approach is beginning and should be encouraged.”

Options other than parks

Municipal staff want to look at other options to reduce the burden on parks. That includes using parking lots, leasing private land, and using right-of-ways and municipal surplus land.

“The loss of up to 40 park spaces over the next 12 – 18 months to provide sufficient sheltering space for unhoused community members will devastate the municipality’s park, sports, recreation services, and many community groups,” Chauvin wrote.

The report also recommends HRM consider other housing options, including tiny homes or prefabricated temporary shelters.

“These are cost-effective housing units that can provide a stable living environment for individuals experiencing homelessness,” Chauvin wrote. “They can be part of a transitional or permanent housing solution. These units can be built more cheaply than a traditional housing unit.”

And Chauvin recommended council consider options for people living in their cars, “including private and commercial properties, campgrounds, other outdoor facilities, and surplus lands.”

The full recommendation to council would direct the chief administrative officer “to lease private property, if possible, as locations for persons experiencing homelessness to shelter;” “to establish additional encampments, temporary housing, or tiny home locations on all types of municipality-owned properties;” “to write to the province requesting their immediate plans to create deeply affordable housing options in HRM;” and “to explore the options of the non-park property types outlined in this report, as well as campgrounds, and outdoor facilities, as locations for unhoused persons who are sheltering in a vehicle.”

Council meets at 1pm on Tuesday.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. Two things: 1) I look at all the high-density buildings going up all over HRM and wonder why the Province doesn’t make a rule whereby the developers must make a certain number of units available as affordable (e.g. 30% of tenants’ income), i.e. not pay some paltry sum to HRM that it may (or may not) put towards affordable housing via non-profits OR make municipal land available for tent cities and provide the services to support them. Winter is coming on!
    2. Get moving on the Shannon Park lands. Canada Lands Corp. is a federal Crown corporation that specializes in real estate development. There is another Crown corporation (CMHC) that used to ensure the provision of affordable housing. Nova Scotia Housing should build, maintain and manage affordable housing for all who need it … families, seniors, persons with special needs, etc.
    Housing is a human right!

  2. The Commons is an extremely well used public space. There is already a plan for the Commons that would see re-development of some spaces for other recreational uses. This proposal does not seem to have been very well thought out. I expect significant opposition.

  3. I wonder if any of Nova Scotia’s finer citizens like John Risley, Jim Spatz and Wadih Fares ever ask themselves how they could turn this homeless problem into an opportunity? Do something.

  4. An easy way out. This is the Commons- everyone’s, accessible by all rain or shine snow or sleet and in total contrast with the Commons Plan, that some have come to respect or dread. Let’s do better by everyone