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N.S. organizations offer alternatives to police-led Meagher Park evictions

Click to play video: 'Housing organizations call for alternatives to police-led Meagher Park evictions' Housing organizations call for alternatives to police-led Meagher Park evictions
WATCH ABOVE: More than a dozen organizations working with unhoused people and marginalized groups have joined forces – signing a letter asking for a different approach to evicting homeless people staying at a local park. Ashley Field has more. – Aug 6, 2022

More than a dozen Nova Scotia organizations that work with unhoused people and other marginalized groups have signed a letter asking the municipal government to consider other options before bringing in police to evict those staying at a park in Halifax.

The letter listed a number of recommendations for an “alternative path forward in the peaceful relocation of the individuals sheltering at Meagher Park.”

Meagher Park, also known as People’s Park, is located on Chebucto Road. Unhoused people have been staying there since the police-led encampment evictions in August 2021.

Earlier in the week, the city made an official request for police to step in and enforce a vacate order at the site.

This summer, councillors designated four municipal park sites where unhoused people could set up tents, but also said those staying at Meagher Park would have to leave by July 17.

Although the deadline has passed, the municipality has said about four or five residents remain, along with protesters.
Click to play video: '‘Vacate order’ request made for police to evacuate people staying in Halifax Park' ‘Vacate order’ request made for police to evacuate people staying in Halifax Park
‘Vacate order’ request made for police to evacuate people staying in Halifax Park – Aug 5, 2022

Read more: Halifax police called to enforce vacate order at Meagher Park

The letter from the organizations, issued late Friday evening, said police should not be involved in relocating the people staying at Meagher Park.

“We implore the city to ask the police to stand down and give service providers and the community of support wrapped around the Meagher Park encampment seven days to implement this alternative,” said the letter.

“We strongly believe that the people currently sheltering at the park need to be meaningfully involved in the selection of a new site and given viable alternatives for relocation which place their health, safety concerns, and dignity at the centre.”

It said their recommendations are informed by the people staying at the park, the homeless serving sector, and representatives from Halifax Mutual Aid and the P.A.D.S Community Advocacy Network.

Unhoused people must be included in decisions: letter

The letter was signed by 14 organizations in total: P.A.D.S Community Advocacy Network, Mutual Aid Halifax, Adsum for Women and Children, Coverdale Courtwork Society, North End Community Health Centre, Welcome Housing and Support Services, Out of the Cold Community Association, Stepping Stone Association, the Elizabeth Fry Society, United Way Halifax, YWCA Halifax, Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, Brunswick Street Mission and P.O.S.S.E.

The letter said service providers should offer whatever units or space they have at their disposal to house any individual sheltering at the park — if it’s where the individual wants to go, if it fits the mandate of the agency, and if it’s culturally safe and appropriate.

In June, municipal councillors unanimously approved four designated greenspaces where people could tent — sites that were selected without the consultation of unhoused people. There are several vacancies at those sites.

The letter from the organizations said unhoused people need to be included in these decisions.

“In the absence of being able to provide people with what they truly want, which is safe and affordable housing, a new site location needs to be determined in consultation and with the consent of the affected individuals and their community of support,” it said, adding that the city should also work with them in a “collaborative way” to determine an accepted relocation site.

In an interview, Miia Suokonautio, executive director of YWCA Halifax, said the aim of the letter was “hopefully to prevent any forced clearings over the weekend.”

She said park residents need to be at the forefront of the decisions that are being made about them.

“There are complex issues and complex needs that are not being met, there’s an affordability crisis, and fundamentally, they’re not being included in the solutions,” she said.

Read more: Structure to secure food for unhoused people deemed safety risk by HRM, dismantled overnight

Whatever site is determined, the letter said, it must be equipped with running water, garbage collection, bathrooms and storage for their belongings.

The municipality has complained of rodent issues at Meagher Park, however, there is no place for residents to safely store their food. In February, the municipality sent crews to tear down a wooden structure used for food storage at the park, deeming it a “safety risk.”

The letter said any site for unhoused people to stay would need to allow for the construction of adequate food storage, preparation and food waste disposal to “increase access to food and minimize the presence of rodents.”

As well, the existing Tyvek shelters should be relocated to the new site, with the consent of residents, until they can be replaced with safer and winterized shelters for long-term planning.

The new site should also be resourced to create a council or advisory of people staying there “to give them a certain level of autonomy and self-governance, to enhance site safety and cleanliness.”

The organizations also called for more resources and services for youths and those who need culturally appropriate services, and for the city to work with service providers to have the relocation and shutting down of the park permanently happen at the same time.

Marie-France LeBlanc, executive director of the North End Community Health Centre, said the goal is to “work with the city and with all partners in order to make the transition one that is much better and much more appropriate than what is trying to be done.”

She said she is confident that the city will work with them to find a solution.

“We’re feeling optimistic that this is going to be a really good seven-day period where we’re going to be able to work with all kinds of partners to be able to make this happen,” said LeBlanc.

According to the latest numbers from the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, there were 643 people in the Halifax area currently experiencing homelessness as of Aug. 2.

There are only about 200 shelter beds in the Halifax area, according to a staff report from June — more than 400 short of what’s needed.

In a statement, HRM spokesperson Ryan Nearing said the municipality is “aware of yesterday’s letter from various service providers assisting those experiencing homelessness.

“Municipal staff will review the request and respond in the coming days. As always, Halifax Regional Police will respond to issues of public safety,” he said.

“There will be no further comment on this matter at this time.”

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