A volunteer group in HRM is asking the city to invoke part of an existing bylaw that would allow unhoused people to continue camping in public parks.
In a media release Friday morning, P.A.D.S. Community Network said they’d met with Mayor Mike Savage and several HRM councillors to discuss Bylaw P-600, which prohibits camping in public parks “unless by permission.”
The volunteer network wants the city to grant that permission to unhoused people in HRM.
“The arrival of spring brings some hope of reprieve from ice and snow, but it also brings the threat of eviction from the only form of subsistence shelter available to many people,” the release reads.
P.A.D.S. came together after Halifax Regional Police forcibly evicted people experiencing homelessness from public parks on August 18, 2021. Many of those people turned to Meagher Park — on the corner of Chebucto and Dublin Streets — as a temporary place to set up camp. Though numbers fluctuate, people have been camping in the park, known as “People’s Park,” since August.
Fear of a repeat of August 18
Drew Moore, a volunteer with P.A.D.S., became a founding member of the network when he witnessed HRP and city staff evict unhoused people from Horseshoe Island Park on August 18, 2021.
P.A.D.S. is no longer providing services in People’s Park, but instead has transitioned primarily into advocating for affordable and accessible housing in HRM.
In a community meeting in the fall, HRM staff made it clear tent encampments in the city’s public parks would not be permitted come spring. At that time, HRM predicted long-awaited modular units for unhoused people would be up and running in both Dartmouth and Halifax by winter.
Now, on the first day of April, the Halifax modular units are still not ready after repeated delays. That means people are relying on an overburdened shelter system, and sometimes resort to sleeping outdoors. As the weather improves, P.A.D.S. predicts the number of people camping in public parks will rise.
“We knew with spring coming that there’s a real threat of eviction, and therefore a real threat of a recurrence of what we witnessed on August 18,” Moore said. “So we wanted to talk to members of HRM council.”
By the end of August of last year, there were roughly 316 people experiencing homelessness in HRM. Eight months later, the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia says that number is 512.
Mayor, councillors meet with P.A.D.S.
P.A.D.S. has met with Mayor Mike Savage and several city councillors over the past two weeks to discuss allowing people to continue camping in public parks.
The Examiner was unable to reach Mayor Savage in time for publication, but spoke to some city councillors who had sat down with P.A.D.S. volunteers. Councillors Lindell Smith, Sam Austin, and Shawn Cleary all said they were open to letting people continue to camp in parks while it was necessary, but there would have to be conditions.
“Other cities have come up with such rules around these things, in terms of how many people are allowed in one spot and criteria for what parks are suitable for this and what ones aren’t,” Austin, councillor for Dartmouth Centre, told the Examiner. “But I’m not in favour of a whole scale removal of that provision.”
Shawn Cleary, councillor for Halifax West Armdale, said he wanted encampments to be near support services, and be serviced with toilets and garbage collection. He also pointed out the city hadn’t been enforcing the bylaw since the fall, and had allowed encampments like the one in People’s Park to remain.
“We’ve got lots of encampments, and have no intention of moving anyone unless housing is available or safety becomes an issue,” he told the Examiner. “We don’t need to change our park bylaw because we have adopted an empathy-based human rights approach.”
People’s Park is located in the district of Halifax Peninsula North. Lindell Smith, councillor for the district, told the Examiner the city’s intention had always been to move people out of park encampments as other housing became available.
Since August, Smith said, the city’s approach had changed.
“With the support and HRM’s response, and the street navigators and the province working a lot closer with us now, I can’t see us going there and just telling people to leave unless there’s serious safety concerns for either the community or that individual, or if they’ve been offered an alternative place to go,” he said.
Moore said P.A.D.S. acknowledges that the city’s upheld its promise not to evict people from public parks until there’s a better solution in place. But, he said, he’s still seen Halifax Regional Police tell residents to stop building structures to store food at People’s Park.
“What we’re looking for is that people will not be criminalized for being unhoused,” Moore said. “And while councillors may say that no one has been evicted over the course of the winter, people have been criminalized.”
Two weeks ago, Halifax’s CAO Jacques Dubé sent an email to P.A.D.S. asking the group assist with “peacefully” shutting down People’s Park. P.A.D.S. said it wouldn’t do that, but it would support residents looking to find housing elsewhere if that’s what they wanted.
Park encampments a temporary provision
Moore told the Examiner tent encampments in city parks aren’t a long term solution. He also acknowledged the city had little jurisdiction over housing, which falls primarily under the province’s mandate. While the province has committed to putting money into affordable housing, it will take time before there’s enough stock to accommodate those who need it.
“In the meantime we’re asking the municipal government to do something that’s in their jurisdiction, which is to not criminalize people for being unhoused.”
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