A collage of various housing options in HRM, including co-ops, apartment buildings, shelters, and tents

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.

Dozens of protestors gather outside the gates of Province House in Halifax Sunday afternoon. All are heavily dressed in winter wear. Some are carryin flags.
Protestors gather outside the gates of Province House in Halifax Sunday afternoon. Photo: Leslie Amminson.

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. 

protestors are provided with warm drinks at the rally from stands set up by volunteers.
Volunteers at the rally provided hot drinks, handwarmers, and extra clothing to protestors. The approaching winter is a major concern for those still sleeping without shelter. Photo: Leslie Amminson

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.

Rachelle Sauvé speaks to the crowd Sunday. Photo: Leslie Amminson

“[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.

Rachelle Sauvé and John Griffin look at each other. They are standing behind protest signs at Sunday's rally, addressing a crowd opposite Nova Scotia's Province House.
Rachelle Sauvé (L) and People’s Park resident John Griffin (R) stand in front of the crowd Sunday. Griffin says he’s been living in a tent at People’s Park since Aug. 18. Photo: Leslie Amminson

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.”

Tents remain in Meagher Park in Halifax. New tarps have been added to winterize the encampments.
As of Sunday — the day of the P.A.D.S rally — tents remain at Nick Meagher Park, or People’s Park, in Halifax. New tarps have been added to “winterize” the encampments. Photo: Leslie Amminson

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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Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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