Police have evicted three more people living in tents from parkland in Halifax.
It’s the first action since the forceful eviction of several people living in tents and Halifax Mutual Aid emergency shelters from four parks in Halifax last Wednesday, when dozens of police officers were dispatched to the former Halifax Memorial Library to carry out the city’s plans.
The latest evictions happened Wednesday night, when two Halifax Regional Police officers approached a group of three men camping in two tents on the Halifax Common.
Looks like @hfxgov is doing forced evictions at night.
HMA supporters just witnessed 2 @HfxRegPolice officers threatening people on the Common who are in tents, telling them to be gone by 11pm. Nobody wants to have people with guns giving them ultimatums, so they’re packing up.
— MutualAidHFX (@MutualAidHfx) August 25, 2021
Gayle Collicutt, a housing advocate, arrived at the tent site with a friend at about 8pm to talk to the men and offer to connect them with supports. She said the police arrived soon after, shining flash lights in the tents and demanding to know who owned them. They had papers showing a list of services that aren’t available at night and a list of shelters that are full.
“They didn’t even offer to call the shelters for them, they just told them to have their stuff gone by 11pm,” Collicutt said in an interview Thursday.
“I believe they’re doing this in the evening so that the public and the media don’t see them doing it.”
Colicutt said the men, set up near the corner of North Park and Cogswell streets, told the police they had nowhere to go. The police told them to go to the park at the corner of Dublin Street and Chebucto Road, and one of the men evicted took some of his possessions and went there.
Officially called Meagher Park, it’s become the main site for tents and emergency shelters in the city. Residents and advocates there are calling it People’s Park, and have formed a new group, P.A.D.S. (Permanent, Accessible, Dignified, and Safer) Housing Network, in solidarity with Halifax Mutual Aid, the anonymous group of volunteers building the emergency shelters on city land.
The Halifax Examiner spoke to a few of the residents there on Thursday, including the man evicted from the Common on Wednesday, agreeing not to use their names.
They said they have not been offered hotel stays or any other kind of temporary housing. The municipality and councillors have repeatedly claimed that every occupant of a tent or shelter has been offered temporary housing. The Examiner has yet to speak to a resident who has been offered any kind of temporary housing. One man said he’s actually been trying to find a way to get into a hotel, but he’s still sleeping in a tent because he hasn’t been offered other shelter.
Residents at the park were shaken up after Wednesday’s eviction, and worry it’s a matter of time before that park is targeted by police.
Tari Ajadi speaks for P.A.D.S. Housing Network, and said the park has become the go-to site for people kicked out of others.
“They end up here because we are offering whatever we possibly can with the resources that we have, and the resources that we have are community care and support, donations, neighbours being kind, and a lot of people who are taking their time to be here,” Ajadi said.
“Everyone who can offer support, that’s not the municipality, has offered support. This is not this is not a Haligonian issue. This is an HRM issue, truly.”
The site is growing rapidly, and with more tents come more worries. P.A.D.S. has been able to get COVID tests, Narcan spray for overdose prevention, medical supplies, and plenty of food and water. But there are some services it can’t provide.
“The first and most urgent concern is that we don’t have permanent bathroom access here. We don’t have a porta potty, we don’t have anything that’s around that will be safe,” Ajadi said.
Ajadi said they’d fundraise for a porta potty, but it’s not like they can get one delivered to a city park.
Collicutt said the city seems to just be “stockpiling” people at the park, and Ajadi wonders if it’s a tactic: push everyone into one small park, provide no support, and then let the ensuing issues justify the eviction of those residents. The police were already there once, on Friday night for a noise complaint, and the encampment has only grown since then.
A city-sanctioned park could work, Ajadi said, but it needs support and washrooms at the very least.
Halifax Regional Police addressed the latest evictions in a statement on Thursday from acting spokesperson Const. Alicia Joseph.
“We have no intention nor can we prioritize the mass removal of encampments; however, enforcement will continue to take place as necessary on a case by case basis and always starting with engagement and conversation,” Joseph wrote.
“It is based on public safety concerns related to specific locations that we are aware of as well as those we are hearing day to day. Accordingly, we have removed two tents this week from the Halifax Commons as well as we had a conversation with the occupant of a third, who indicated they required more time.”
At the North Common on Thursday afternoon, one Halifax Regional Police officer on a bicycle was patrolling the area, circling the green space. But there were no tents remaining.
Collicutt said the third tent referenced may be one that popped up on Wednesday near the washroom on the North Common, on Cunard Street, but it was gone by the afternoon.
For people working on behalf of the city’s unhoused residents, like Ajadi and Collicutt, the further police action is demoralizing.
“I don’t recognize this city anymore,” Collicutt said.