Councillors have rejected a plan to allow people to live in tents on the Halifax Common.

As the Halifax Examiner reported Monday, municipal housing and homelessness director Max Chauvin recommended council allow tents at the north end of the Common, replacing two crusher dust ball diamonds this fall.

Chauvin told councillors the municipality will need up to 40 more parks for unhoused people in the next 18 months as the rapidly-increasing number of unhoused people is only expected to grow.

Coun. Waye Mason was in favour of the plan, arguing the Victoria Park and Grand Parade encampments in his Peninsula South district have grown too large. The situation in Victoria Park, with more than 30 tents, is “bubbling on the verge of becoming extremely bad,” Mason said.

“No one is saying tents are good or a permanent solution. But if not here, then where?”

Mason said rejecting the idea of tents on the Common without alternative direction means the situation will just continue to worsen.

“Right now, what this means to my residents today, and the businesses downtown today, is nothing changes tomorrow. It will be exactly the same out there at Victoria Park because there’s no clear direction to staff,” Mason said.

Staff will look to other parks

Chauvin told councillors if they didn’t approve tents on the Common, staff would use other parks instead. Those would include Cogswell Park, Saunders Park, Beaufort Park, Point Pleasant Park, Grafton Park, and part of Fort Needham Park.

Coun. Shawn Cleary argued if council started allowing tents on the Common, HRM would lose control.

“If we set up an encampment on the Common it’s there for the next two, three, four years,” Cleary said. “That’s it, like it becomes a semi-permanent encampment and we will lose control of it because when someone shows up at two o’clock in the morning, they go, ‘Oh, there’s tents over there, I’m pitching mine over here on the cricket pitch. Then that part’s gone too.”

Cleary said Halifax is going to have to build temporary housing.

“The only solution to this is to get our asses in gear, spend the money, buy the hard sheds, buy the modulars buy the prefabs, get people indoors, because we are not ever going to control the tents,” he said.

Harsh words for Houston and co

Deputy Mayor Sam Austin, agreeing with Cleary, said the provincial government is not going to help.

“If you look at the choices that our current government has made they do not lend anyone to think that the calvary is coming, that there will be a rescue here,” he said. “So we are left to decide how are we best going to continue to band aid this impossible problem that absolutely should not be happening in a society as wealthy and as prosperous as ours.”

Austin said he hopes the municipality is considering all of its options.

“I frankly think … it’s time to sue them.”

Coun. Lisa Blackburn mused that allowing tents on the Common might spur the government to action.

“I think we are at the stage now where, my god, we’ve got to embarrass them into doing something,” Blackburn said.

“I say put up tents, all the tents, on the Common and then declare a disaster, so maybe then we can get some federal assistance, maybe we can get some provincial assistance. Maybe having the Red Cross come in to help with this will embarrass the province into doing their bloody job.”

Nova Scotia sitting on big surplus

Coun. Tony Mancini said the province just doesn’t view the issue the way it does health care or even climate change.

“There’s a homeless crisis, which they do not see. Their eyes are not on that crisis,” Mancini said.

He suggested it’s political.

“This is 100% political, the votes aren’t here in HRM,” Mancini said.

Mayor Mike Savage noted Tuesday’s news that the province had declared a surplus of $115.7 million after forecasting a half-billion-dollar deficit.

“We’re all frustrated by this,” Savage said.

“And if the provincial government have a surplus after expecting a large deficit, I know where they could spend the money in a way that would help a lot of our fellow human beings.”

The vote breakdown

The staff recommendation before council on Tuesday had five parts, and during the debate, they made some changes and voted on each part separately.

The first part of the motion directed the chief administrative officer “to lease private property, if possible, as locations for persons experiencing homelessness to shelter.” That passed with only Coun. Paul Russell voting no.

Part Two of the motion would’ve allowed tents on the Halifax Common. That motion failed 12-4, with Coun. Kathryn Morse, Austin, Mason, Blackburn voting yes.

The third part directed the CAO “to establish additional encampments, temporary housing, or tiny home locations on all types of municipality-owned properties. Such sites may include rights of way, parking lots, and surplus lands. That passed 13-3, with councillors Trish Purdy, Tim Outhit, and Russell voting no.

Russell proposed two successful amendments to the fourth part of the motion, which will see the CAO write a letter to the provincial government “requesting their immediate plans to create deeply affordable housing options in HRM.” Due to Russell’s amendments, the letter will also ask the province about leasing land for tenting, and providing support services for people at encampment with more than 10 tents. That passed unanimously.

The fifth part of the motion also passed unanimously, directing the CAO “to explore the options of the non-park property types outlined in the staff report […] as well as campgrounds, and outdoor facilities, as locations for unhoused persons who are sheltering in a vehicle.”

And Morse made an amendment to add a sixth part to the motion, which passed unanimously. That part asks for a staff report “to explore the feasibility of purchasing and installing pre-fabricated structures, similar to the Sprung structures in Toronto, to provide rapid response emergency housing in HRM including funding opportunities for installation and operation that include other orders of government and the private sector.”

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. Why are they even talking about more tents in September? Winter is coming and they need to figure this mess out as soon as possible.

  2. The Centre Plan incentivized demolitions- at least 450 since Jan 2020 (no record of unit counts).These are all affordable relative to new builds. Acres of land and surface parking lots remain empty.
    Public lands HRM sold include Bloomfield, St Pat’s, St Pat’s-Alexandra ignroed public efforts to achieve public benefits such as affordable housing. Repurposing the existing buildings for community purpose would have been cheaper than building new. Cogswell should be used for housing not sold to developers- HRM Mayor and at least one councillor were quoted in the media as having said that affordable housing at this location can’t happen as the value of the land is too high.

  3. There is a entire city block in the downtown that could be used, centrally located and is used only periodically. I am pretty sure the we would not miss them if they were not there (much like COVID 19) because not much gets done there. It is called Province House!!

  4. Public housing is the only answer. The city is broke, yes, I get it. But waiting for the Tories to do anything other than actively benefit landlords and property developers, who will fight tooth and nail to prevent any public housing, is useless. Councillors can send all the letters they want, at the end of the day someone has to step up and get things started.

  5. If you don’t think that tents on the Grand Parade are embarrassing enough, more on the Commons isn’t going to make a difference in that regard. The p1ssing contest between the city and the province only delays getting human beings into safe shelter. Where is the leadership?