Halifax Regional Council approved recommendations in a report about homelessness in the city after hearing that “people will die” if shelters and other options aren’t put in place for those currently living outside.
Max Chauvin, director of housing and homelessness with HRM, made a presentation on a report regarding the current status of homelessness in the city during the meeting of council on Tuesday.
According to figures from July, Chauvin said there were 178 people sleeping rough in HRM. He said 1,014 people are on the HRM ‘By Name’ list as of Oct. 10, adding the number of people sleeping rough is expected to double within the next eight months. Chauvin said that number also doubled last year, between November and July from 85 to the current 178.
The By Name list records people who are homeless and looking for stable housing in HRM.
“We don’t see any reason why that won’t continue again,” Chauvin told council.
Chauvin noted that last year, HRM opened 360 beds, and so far with the announcements last week about the tiny homes in Lower Sackville and the small shelters by an American company called Pallet being set up in locations in HRM, there are only about 150 beds.
“We do have less housing so far, or less shelter space so far coming online than we did last year,” Chauvin said. “It could be larger than that.”
Province looking for location for winter shelter
He said while the province has committed to having a winter shelter, a location for that shelter hasn’t determined yet. Chauvin said the province is now in negotiations for a location, and HRM needs space for about 80 to 100 people. He said if a location hasn’t been chosen by the end of this week, they will take a recreation centre to use as a shelter.
“We have already spoken to the province about the importance of this not just being a winter shelter. We need more shelter space,” Chauvin said. “We would like to see this continue on certainly for a significant period of time.”
Chauvin said they are concerned that it’s October and there is still no location where people can stay during the winter months. He said there needs to be more locations, and better locations.
“So far, the weather has been cooperative, but we all know that won’t last much longer,” Chauvin said.
The report identified several locations in HRM for tent encampments, and set a number of tents for current locations:
• Grand Parade with a proposed occupancy of 8 or fewer tents
• Victoria Park with a proposed occupancy of 12 or fewer tents
• The berms on University Avenue with a proposed occupancy of 6 or fewer tents
• Martins Park with a proposed occupancy of 4 or fewer tents
• Beaufort Park with a proposed occupancy of 4 or fewer tents
• Saunders Park with a proposed occupancy of 8 or fewer tents (if required)
Chauvin also provided more details on the Pallet shelters that will be placed at locations in HRM and across the province. One-hundred of those shelters will be placed in HRM, while the other 100 will be set up at locations across the province.
Each location will have 10 to 15 Pallet shelters. Those locations, he said, are “villages with a purpose,” so one area might be based on a harm reduction model, another village might be for seniors, another village will be dry for residents who are sober.
The Pallets don’t have their own washrooms. Instead, washrooms are located in another building on the site. Each Pallet shelter has power. Those shelters are expected to arrive by the end of January, and will be ready in February.
Chauvin said HRM has an memorandum of understanding with the province that will outline who is responsible for different aspects of each Pallet village. He said so far, suggested locations for the Pallet shelters include a side lot at Sackville Stadium, lot near the Halifax Forum, and surplus land in HRM that is now designated for affordable housing.
No details about transition plan for Sackville encampment
As for the tiny homes pilot project in Lower Sackville that was announced last week, each of those shelters have a washroom, as well as a small kitchen area. The tiny homes are single occupancy.
There are currently about 40 people living in tents at the former ballfield where the tiny home village will be built. Chauvin said there will be a transition plan for the residents of the tent encampment, and some may be eligible to live in a tiny home.
“We don’t have a lot of answers to that other than that’s part of the plan,” Chauvin said.
Chauvin was frank about the risks if shelters and more options weren’t created for people now living outdoors.
“Right now, we have almost 200 people who have nowhere to go. If you’ve been outside, you see they are in summer-only tents,” Chauvin said. “We have people building fires just to keep warm. We will have people die, if we don’t have a place [for them] to go.”
Concern about using municipal parks for tents
Coun. Paul Russell expressed concerns that tents will still be in Grand Parade and Victoria Park where events are often held, adding he often hears from residents who want to hold events in those parks. Russell asked for an amendment to the motion to exclude those parks from the list for encampments.
“I’m not suggesting that because these sites would not be designated that we boot people out. What am I suggesting is that we are able to offer them a better place if there is another designated site over there that does have the additional services,” Russell said.
CAO Cathie O’Toole said if Grand Parade and Victoria Park were removed, other locations would have to be added to the list because there is not enough space with the current designated locations.
O’Toole said they wanted to handle the issue of the tent encampments in a way that doesn’t end up as “another Aug. 18, 2021.” That was when Halifax Regional Police evicted people living in downtown Halifax parks.
“We recognize that although we will be moving people, not evicting people, there will be some people who will may refuse to move. The advantage of leaving those two sites, or making those two sites designated is if we can get it down to a manageable number from that may help from a public safety perspective, then it may be manageable.”
O’Toole said there are plans to add signage to designated locations that will detail the number of tents permitted at those locations. She said there will also be enforcement efforts to identify who are unhoused and who are campers at those sites.
Chauvin explained while those parks are currently overcrowded with people living in tents, it was important for everyone to share the parks.
“We felt a limited number would be sustainable,” Chauvin said. “Part of the problem is we have so many people we need locations for. That was the reasoning for that.”
Chauvin said he was hopeful a winter shelter would be ready by Remembrance Day.
‘If it’s designated, we can control it’
Coun. Trish Purdy said she wasn’t in favour of people living in tents in municipal parks.
“It’s very damaging to a community and not dignifying,” she said.
Coun. Shawn Cleary said he wouldn’t support Russell’s amendment to remove Grand Parade and Victoria Park from the list of tent encampments.
“If it’s designated, we can control it, the number of tents, and the residents who are staying there in tents don’t have to worry about the harassment, and the uncertainly that comes with being in a place that isn’t designated,” Cleary said. “These aren’t ideal situations, but we have to deal with the situation in front of us.”
Purdy asked about putting tent encampments on the Shannon Park property, which is currently managed by Canada Lands.
Chauvin said that property could work “in theory” but a lot of work still needs to be done at the site. He said HRM is in talk with Canada Lands about using the property in the future, adding they were “very keen to help.”
Chauvin noted in his presentation that every business unit in HRM was working on the issue of homelessness, with many employees volunteering time to help out.