One of Halifax Mutual Aid’s shelters, along with a tent, next to the old Halifax Memorial Library in January. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Halifax hired a consultant to train its employees on “empathy-based approaches to homeless encampments” before announcing it would evict homeless people from their encampments.

As the Halifax Examiner reported earlier this week, Halifax has given people living in shelters on city land, built by Halifax Mutual Aid, one week to get out before it’s going to remove them itself. Halifax Mutual Aid, an anonymous volunteer organization, said it can’t “in good conscience put people in a worse situation than they are currently,” and won’t remove the shelters.

Since the shelters first went up around the city in January, the municipality has said it will find alternative accommodations for people living in the structures before removing them, but that they won’t allow them to be there indefinitely.

On Thursday, the Examiner learned that Halifax hired a consulting firm to train its employees on the encampments.

“The municipality hired the consulting firm, OrgCode, which specializes in empathy-based approaches to homeless encampments, to provide some training sessions for municipal staff and social service providers,” spokesperson Erin DiCarlo confirmed in an email.

DiCarlo said the consultant cost the municipality “approximately $7,000,” and didn’t provide any communications advice.

In an interview Thursday, Halifax Mutual Aid external spokesperson Campbell McClintock said the consultant fees are further evidence the municipality is taking a “top-down” approach to the issue.

“It just feels like all this is happening in the backroom and there’s absolutely no stage where any councillor is consulting the people living in the shelters,” McClintock said.

According to its website, Ontario-based OrgCode Consulting, Inc. “works with non-profits, government, private companies and non-governmental organizations.”

“We are catalysts for better outcomes. Hip and nerdy, we are the antidotes to the status quo across the multi-disciplinary skill set of the team. OrgCode excels in strategy, planning, training, research, community engagement, and positive social change,” reads its bio.

Among the webinars offered by the company this year was one titled, “Encampments: Understanding What they are and how to effectively engage.”

“This fast-paced 90 minute sessions provides all the core information needed to understand encampments, collect appropriate data and assess encampments, address risks within encampments, and how to remain focused on housing and service solutions during the planning, mitigation and closure phases when an enforcement body wants or needs to bring the encampment to an end.”

The Examiner requested an interview with the company’s president and CEO, Iain De Jong, hoping to learn more about the training the company provided to HRM, and how he feels about the municipality’s plan to remove the shelters.

We’ll update this post when we receive a response.

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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. I note also that HRM has a tendency to use Ontario consulting companies instead of supporting local. In addition to supporting local businesses, these companies are also far better acquainted with the local community. There is also a lot of expertise within the NS non-profit community that could have been put to use.

  2. If HRM wants to learn about empathy, Counciilors, CEO, and management should pick up hammer and saw and join with HMA to provide safe, temporary shelters for those who are homeless.

  3. Parents teach their children how to practise empathy. In a real community, the community teaches members how to exercise empathy.When tax dollars are expended to teach”empathy -based approaches to homeless encampments”, something has failed in our communities.When some in the Halifax community saw that homeless people needed help, they picked up a hammer and a skill saw; that’s the spirit in action, not marching in place and expecting to get somewhere.

  4. Every one of our councillors needs to resign. This is such a slap in the face and you just know these “hip and nerdy” folks who have wrapped up everything you need to know about homelessness in a 90 minute webinar are laughing all the way to the bank.