The city says it will be able to house 73 people in 24 “modular units” to be set up in undisclosed locations in Halifax and Dartmouth.
Mayor Mike Savage and Assistant Chief of Emergency Management Erica Fleck, who’s been assigned to lead HRM’s response to homelessness for three months, held a news conference at Halifax City Hall on Wednesday to update the public on the city’s response to the homelessness crisis.
Savage started by listing off what council has done in recent years, like its approval of projects receiving federal funding, its bylaw changes to allow secondary suites, and its vote after the violent police-led evictions of Aug. 18 to spend $500,000 on emergency housing. Savage urged the provincial government to do more on the issue, and noted Halifax is ill-equipped to deal with the day-to-day, given social services are a provincial responsibility.
“There is no perfect solution to homelessness in the near term. But we at the city, this council, and our staff will work with anybody we can to make life better for those who need a warm bed and a decent roof. That’s what everybody deserves,” Savage said.
“This is not a situation that’s going to be solved on Twitter. It’s going to be a situation that’s resolved as a result of hard work and really understanding and listening to people who need help.”
Fleck handled the specifics during the news conference, and said workers from Out of the Cold are supporting people at Gray Arena in Dartmouth, where the municipality has space for up to 30 people. It’s been using that space for about a week now to house people who accepted offers to move out of Meagher Park, a.k.a. People’s Park, and into an arena. That space will be up and running until the end of October at the latest, according to the news release accompanying Wednesday’s announcement.
The municipality is now turning to another park, located between Spring Garden Road, South Park Street, and Cathedral Lane
“In the upcoming days municipality will also be focusing on Victoria Park. Professional service providers and volunteers will be engaged to offer accommodations as well as the required services and supports that they need,” Fleck said.
Fleck responded to allegations from Mutual Aid Halifax, the group of anonymous volunteers building crisis shelters for people in HRM, that she’d been personally threatening to evict people by the end of the week.
“I’ve spent a lot of time at Meagher Park in the past week and a half since I started, and at no time were they told that that they were going to be forcibly removed,” she said.
Fleck said she came to a written agreement with the volunteer group previously running People’s Park, P.A.D.S. (Permanent, Accessible, Dignified, and Safer) Housing Network, that no one would be forcibly removed from the park without being offered a safe alternative.
But she said she wouldn’t agree to a moratorium on evictions from parks because HRM wasn’t going to change its bylaw banning camping in parks. The bylaw allows the municipality to give permission to camp, but Fleck didn’t mention that.
Asked what assurance people living in Victoria Park have that they won’t be woken up and evicted by police at 6am, Fleck said no one has been evicted from Victoria Park unless there was a health and safety concern.
“People are not being woken up for no reason and told move on, but our next bound as I mentioned earlier is that we, I, personally, and the team of a whole pile of people, we’ll be working with the residents that are living in Victoria Park right now to again, transition them peacefully, to an appropriate space that works for them.”
To house those people and the ones currently living in Gray Arena, Fleck said the municipality is committing to securing the 24 modular housing units that will house 73 people, providing a site for them, and installing them.
“They are trailer-like structures,” Fleck said. “There are some bunk houses that house eight to 10 people. There are also modular units that would have a kitchen area, one with bathrooms and showers.”
The municipality is counting on the provincial government to pay some of the cost of the units, and to provide services for the people living in them.
The Halifax Examiner asked spokespeople from the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Department of Community Services whether the province had committed to those actions. We’ll update this article with the response.*
Fleck also announced that HRM has decided to hire a coordinator on a one-year term to act as a liaison between HRM and service providers like Out of the Cold.
*Update — Sept. 29, 7pm:
Community Services spokesperson Lisa Jarrett provided the Examiner with a statement without clear answers to our specific questions around the modular housing:
Those experiencing homelessness are among our most vulnerable citizens and they need our compassion and support. The Department of Community Services has worked- and will continue to work- with HRM and community organizations to ensure those experiencing homelessness have the supports they need.
We are actively working with the City of Halifax on the modular concept and, as we have been doing all along, will continue to look for ways we can work with HRM and our community partners to support individuals experiencing homelessness.
Recently, the Province made a number of investments to provide permanent supportive housing in communities across the province for those experiencing homelessness. This includes $20.5 million for the Integrated Action Plan to Address Homelessness that invested in front line housing supports, 55 additional shelter beds in Halifax, rent supplements to support housing affordability, programs to support individuals exiting correctional facilities, and funding for the Out of the Cold shelter.
In May, the Department also announced $6.9 million in funding to create up to 100 permanent supported housing units for homeless people across Nova Scotia. It is anticipated that all units will be operational by the end of 2021.
The housing crisis is very real and multiple levels of government, partners and agencies will need to work together to help address the issue. The province supports low-income Nova Scotians with a variety of supports, including rent supports and public housing, and uses incentives to encourage affordable housing
This piece is part of the Halifax Examiner’s new “Priced Out” series, an ongoing investigative reporting project focused on the housing crisis.
You can learn about the project, including how we’re asking readers to direct our reporting, our published articles, and what we’re working on, on the PRICED OUT homepage.