This article was written by Ethan Lycan-Lang and Leslie Amminson.
“Call back the house until everybody’s got one.”
That was the chant repeated by a crowd of demonstrators gathered outside Province House in Halifax Sunday afternoon.
Wrapped in scarves, toques, and winter coats, dozens of people blocked off part of George Street, demanding the provincial government declare the housing crisis an emergency and that the legislature call an emergency session to deal with the issue.
The Nova Scotia legislature wrapped up its fall sitting on November 5. There are no plans for the house to sit again before spring.
Sunday’s rally was organized by P.A.D.S Community Network (the acronym refers to Permanent, Accessible, Dignified, and Safer housing). The volunteer-run group formed after Halifax Regional Police evicted homeless people from municipal parks on August 18. Since then, P.A.D.S. has been calling on the provincial and municipal governments to provide better supports to the unhoused, including funding for affordable housing, increased shelter space, and wrap-around services for residents of emergency housing.
But with winter approaching, advocates have put the emphasis on finding immediate shelter for those sleeping outside.
“We’re here to call out this [provincial] government for what it can do,” P.A.D.S. volunteer Rachelle Sauvé told the crowd Sunday. Sauvé led the rally, which had six speakers address the crowd. Speakers included a lawyer representing protestors arrested during the August 18 evictions, a resident of People’s Park, and other community advocates.
“[Elected officials] are on break ‘til spring now,” Sauvé said. “They put in a couple weeks of work, they put out a plan that really says nothing about the immediate moment for unhoused persons.”
The plan Sauvé referred to is the Solutions for Housing and Homelessness Plan released by the province in October.
In it, the province states:
“The Government will take a series of actions to help ensure people who are experiencing homelessness, or at risk of homelessness, are supported to transition to stable housing. The investments will also provide additional supports for those most at-risk, while enhancing services for people outside of the Halifax Regional Municipality.”
In the plan, the province committed to investing $35 million into 1,100 new affordable housing units across the province and promised to implement inclusionary zoning, a tool that encourages or requires developers to include affordable housing in mixed-income developments.
Multiple speakers at Sunday’s rally said this plan, and the province’s response so far, hasn’t met the urgent needs of those still sleeping outside (422 by the Affordable Housing Association’s last count). They called on the province to take faster action.
Though Sunday’s rally was aimed at the provincial government, there’s also been a considerable amount of public pressure on Halifax Regional Council to deal with the city’s housing crisis.
On November 9, council voted to spend $3.2 million on the installation of modular units in Halifax and Dartmouth. Once installed, those units will house 60 people. HRM has maintained that addressing the need for affordable housing is not in its mandate, but given the urgency of the problem it has decided to step in.
The question of who’s responsible for tackling the province’s housing crisis has proved frustrating for advocates, including P.A.D.S volunteer Victoria Levack.
“Instead of working together, [HRM and the province] keep passing the buck,” Levack said. “And that is not helpful for anyone. So instead of passing the buck, please just do the work. And I don’t care who does it, but just do the work.”
Levack has been a regular volunteer at People’s Park, the encampment that’s taken over Nick Meagher Park in Halifax since August. In the last week, residents of the park have gone through a major rainstorm and the first snow heading into winter.
“I was there on, I believe it was Friday,” said Levack, in an interview. “It was really cold and we’re trying to winterize… It’s not very great, but we’re doing the best we can.”
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They could have picked a better day. No one in the building.
Or did it in front of City Hall.