Despite lingering questions over designated tent sites for the homeless, Halifax Regional Municipality councilors have agreed to move forward with a revised version of the proposal.
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HRM staff initially recommended 16 possible outdoor sites on municipal land that they deemed suitable for accommodation – 11 of them for “overnight stays” and five for longer-term situations.
The motion passed on Tuesday evening included asking staff to formalize the criteria and locations of designated accommodation sites, while removing one-night options. Most councilors objected to one-night options, which would only be open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
“If someone doesn’t want to leave at 8 o’clock and has nowhere to go, where do they go? Will they turn around the corner waiting for the compliance officer to leave? It’s a tricky situation,” the adviser said. Iona Stoddard, who represents District 12 (Timberlea – Beechville – Clayton Park – Wedgewood).
An amendment was made, requesting a staff report on the negotiation of a memorandum of understanding with the province on support for unhoused residents. This report, the advisers said, should define the roles of each level of government.
“The least worst option”
Staff told councilors at Tuesday’s virtual council meeting that there have been people sleeping “roughly” in the municipality for decades now.
Com. Waye Mason, who represents District 7 (Halifax South Downtown), said designated spots will only work if they are properly stocked and safe.
“We need to make sure these camps are a place that maximizes safety for everyone,” he added.
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The report was prepared after a six-week reassessment of the city’s approach to homelessness and encampments. The city and province recently partnered to create modular units to provide housing on the Halifax and Dartmouth side. The Dartmouth units were operational by January. The Halifax versions have not yet been opened.
In a statement to Global News, Halifax Mutual Aid said the group was disappointed with the report from HRM staff.
“Halifax Mutual Aid is disappointed that the council did not consult a single member of the homeless community when drafting a report which directly impacts their safety and self-reliance,” a spokesperson wrote.
“The absolute bare minimum they could have done was involve people in their planning. They should be a primary stakeholder in this conversation. This once again shows their lack of compassion for our homeless friends and neighbors.
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Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace, who represents District 13 (Hammonds Plains – St. Margarets), echoed that concern.
“Their voices are not in this report. Yes, we have voices of homeless people, but the most important people we’re trying to help – we haven’t heard from them,” she said at the council meeting.
She said the idea of designated sites had “good intentions, but it’s not going to work.”
Modular units work, she said, because they’ve partnered with an organization that has on-site workers and community groups to work with clients.
“But if you start placing people only in these designated sites without any management, coordination or community connection, it will be chaos,” she said.
‘I can’t support this until staff come up with a real detailed plan of how the rules and regulations will actually be enforced.’
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Vicky Levack, a housing and disability advocate with PADS Community Network, watched the debate and told Global News that law enforcement is still a top concern for many in the community.
“We are concerned about the powers of compliance officers and whether the police will be used,” she said. “They say they won’t unless there is actually violence perpetrated against someone.”
The issue of security was raised several times by councilors during the council meeting.
“I don’t want to see August 18 recreated in 16 different places,” the adviser said. Lisa Blackburn, who represents District 14 (Middle/Upper Sackville – Beaver Bank – Lucasville), in reference to evictions at downtown Halifax sites last year.
She and others have also expressed frustration about the province’s lack of input. Housing, they pointed out, falls under provincial jurisdiction.
“We’re running out of millions of reserve dollars that we can get off the couch to spend on this problem,” Blackburn said.
She added that the municipality’s “level of expertise” was “reaching its limit.
The motion adopted by the board in its entirety:
THAT Halifax Regional Council:
1) Direct the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to continue to support the province and other partners to ensure people have safe, supportive and affordable housing,
2) To request the CAO to continue its efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing, as described in the body of this report,
3) Direct the CAO to formalize the criteria and locations for the designation of overnight accommodation sites in the parks in accordance with the criteria and locations described in the body of the staff report dated April 28, 2022, with the deletion of the sites overnight camping, and adding these sites to the list of potential longer-term camping sites if necessary and possible to ensure sufficient supplies to meet requests to be brought back to Council for consideration,
4) Direct the CAO to continue to review options for adding off-park sites to the inventory of outdoor sites available for overnight accommodation,”
5) Authorize the Executive Director to negotiate and enter into a contribution agreement with United Way to convene a lived experience committee to advise staff, and
6) Request the CAO to return to the Board with a subsequent report with additional analysis and recommendations for actions, including a timeline and plan to support people transition, education and implementation that is led and provided by civilian personnel.
7) Request the Executive Director to provide a staff report on the negotiation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Province of Nova Scotia on support for non-housed HRM residents. The report should include defining the roles of each level of government and specific actions to support and prevent homelessness within HRM.
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