Halifax council approves 9 new sites for homeless encampments

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City says more space needed to relieve issues at sanctioned, unsanctioned sites

Halifax designates more encampment sites

16 hours ago

Duration 2:27

As Haley Ryan reports, the municipality says the current homeless encampment sites have been overcrowded for too long.

Halifax councillors have approved a list of parks where new designated homeless encampments could go as a “pressure release,” because the handful of current sites are overcrowded and only hold about half of the 150 people sleeping rough in the city.

As of June 25, there were 88 tents or structures in Halifax’s four designated sites for people experiencing homelessness, which have a total capacity of 30. There were also 13 tents at Northbrook Park in Dartmouth, nine at the old Halifax Memorial Library, and multiple encampments at other non-designated urban sites, with more in rural areas.

“What an awful choice. Our choice right now is which of our public spaces are we going to give up,” Coun. Sam Austin said during Tuesday’s council meeting.

The by-name list that tracks people experiencing homelessness in Halifax has also grown to 1,316 people.

9 sites chosen in Halifax, Dartmouth

After scanning hundreds of parks around the municipality, staff suggested a list of 10 that fit the criteria of not being too close to schools, playgrounds, gardens, or culturally sensitive areas, and were close to transit routes and other services.

Bill Moore, executive director of Halifax’s community safety department, said staff tried to balance the needs of people sleeping rough with the impacts to people living near encampments.

“We’re really looking for the best of the worst options,” Moore said. “This would be a small pressure release but if we continue to see the increase in numbers … we will be looking for additional spaces.”

After a lengthy debate, council agreed to a list of nine parks city staff can open as needed:

  • Bayers Road Windsor Street Park (Halifax).
  • BiHi Park (Halifax).
  • Chain Lake Park (Halifax).
  • Cogswell Park (Halifax).
  • Glebe Street Park (Halifax).
  • Halifax Common berm (near Oval).
  • Geary Street green space (Dartmouth).
  • Bissett Road Park (Dartmouth).
  • Point Pleasant Park (Halifax).

Staff suggested opening a few parks in the first round, including Cogswell Park on Windsor Street, Glebe Street Park in the north end, and part of the Halifax Common near the Oval, then revisiting the list as required.

“Every time we start this conversation, we need to make it perfectly clear … that this is a provincial responsibility and we are just doing what we can with the resources that we have,” said Coun. Lisa Blackburn.

Council passed Austin’s request to swap Starr Park on Prince Albert Road for the Geary Street space. Austin said as painful as it would be to reopen the Geary Street site that was decommissioned earlier this year, it was still better than Starr Park, which has a busy walking trail and many surrounding residents.

Farrell Street Park in north Dartmouth was also removed based on Coun. Tony Mancini’s suggestion, because the city has spent money fixing up the area to improve safety, installing new lighting and gardens and clearing a path after the death of 18-year-old Chelsie Probert in the park.

It’s unclear how many tent sites would be allowed at each encampment, or exactly when they would open. There would be municipal supports like water and porta-potties, as well as fencing if required.

Moore said opening more sites allows municipal staff and street navigators to move people from the overcrowded University Avenue site, which is seeing violence and impacts on people who work or visit nearby hospitals.

It also means people can be moved out of sensitive undesignated areas, like Dartmouth’s Northbrook Park that includes a playground and is a common shortcut for residents headed to the Sobeys on Wyse Road.

Moore said there have been reports there of vandalism, late-night noise, and altercations between camp residents and people trying to use the space, so now a local daycare and nearby families no longer use it. In one incident, municipal staff were chased out of the site, Moore said, and the city is working with other service providers to better help residents in the park who are “experiencing true issues.”

“We can’t let that place just fall to pieces,” Austin said.

People have also been given until July 15 to move from Grafton Street Park near the old Halifax Memorial Library on Spring Garden Road. Staff said it is a culturally sensitive site where there shouldn’t be tenting, similar to Africville Park or the Public Gardens.

A white and blue tent has the words 'public housing please' written on its side
A tent outside the old Halifax Memorial Library on Spring Garden Road on July 8, 2024. People on the site have been given until July 15 to move to other areas. (CBC)

Multiple councillors asked how the new camps would be managed. Moore said there would be more staff support and presence at the sites in comparison to the past, and the city is working on starting up civilian-led teams with experts like social workers that could help when issues arise.

Moore added the province has also launched teams delivering mental-health support to people in encampments.

Coun. Paul Russell said he was concerned allowing a site on the Common would mean tents would spill over to the rest of the green space and sports fields, and a Point Pleasant Park site would bring extra risk if fires got out of control.

But Lindell Smith and Waye Mason, the councillors for those areas, asked for them to stay on the list because people are already tenting there, and peninsula spaces are needed to help University Avenue’s overcrowding.

“If we don’t designate it, then we will just allow tents to be on all the Common,” Smith said. “We can at least try to centralize it in one area.”

A red outline is shown around a green grassy area from the Google Maps overhead view
One of the nine new options for a designated site is the green space of the Halifax Common near the Oval along North Park Street, circled in red. (Google Maps)

Municipal staff said during the meeting that a Point Pleasant Park encampment would be in the second round of sites if needed, and would likely be next to the upper parking lot off Tower Road.

The city is preparing another encampment at the corner of Bancroft Lane and Marketplace Drive on Wrights Cove in Dartmouth, but that larger site will likely not be ready until mid-September at the earliest.

Staff will come back to council with an encampment update in November, by which time it’s hoped that provincial projects like individual Pallet shelters and a tiny home community in Lower Sackville will be in place.

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Written by Colin

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