Councillor blasts group building shelters after altercation at Dartmouth park

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A temporary shelter built by Halifax Mutual Aid was set up in Starr Park on Prince Albert Road in Dartmouth on Saturday. (Preston Mulligan/CBC - image credit)
A temporary shelter built by Halifax Mutual Aid was set up in Starr Park on Prince Albert Road in Dartmouth on Saturday. (Preston Mulligan/CBC - image credit)

A councillor in Dartmouth says temporary shelters in public spaces are needed to house people experiencing homelessness, but he takes issue with a volunteer group that's building the structures.

Coun. Sam Austin wrote in an online post that Halifax Mutual Aid created a dangerous situation by setting up an unauthorized shelter at Starr Park in Dartmouth on Saturday.

Police say an occupant assaulted a nearby resident who approached the shelter around 7 a.m. on Monday. The 65-year-old man was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Halifax Mutual Aid is a volunteer group that builds the crisis shelters and delivers them to public parks and other places. The group says occupants decide where they're located.

"The challenge with Mutual Aid's approach is [that] it's an anonymous group that doesn't do any consultation with anybody else and then drops these shelters into our park spaces with no supporting services," Austin, the councillor for Dartmouth-Centre, told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon on Tuesday.

A 31-year-old man faces charges of assault causing bodily harm and threats to cause death after the altercation on Monday.

Mutual Aid says it will keep building shelters

Halifax Mutual Aid said in a statement that volunteers were saddened to hear about the incident at the park.

The group said it believes it knows the man who was injured. It said he threatened volunteers and shelter occupants, and it believes he also used power tools to cut a hole in the shelter.

"We present these details not because the violence was justified, but because Halifax City Council is once again pushing false & misleading narratives that put some of the most vulnerable members of our community at greater risk of violence," the group wrote.

Halifax Mutual Aid said it will continue to build shelters for people who need them.

Preston Mulligan/CBC
Preston Mulligan/CBC

"The solution to this crisis will not come from further marginalization of those without housing. The solution is safe, dignified housing," the group wrote.

A growing number of emergency shelters like the one in Starr Park have been built across the city in recent months as Nova Scotia deals with an unprecedented housing crisis.

Across the bridge, a handful of people have been staying at a tent encampment in Halifax's Meagher Park, and there are now nearly two dozen temporary shelters located on church properties.

"There is a need for the types of shelters that Mutual Aid builds, but not in the way that they're doing them," said Austin.

He wants council to create guidelines about where emergency shelters can be legally set up and what services and supports can be provided to people staying in them.

"There's lots of failure to go around on this in terms of government, and one of the things I think as a municipality we're going to have to confront is we need some rules around where people can shelter in our public spaces because the needs are not going to go away," Austin said.

One possibility, said Austin, is placing temporary shelters on municipal land that isn't near homes, playgrounds or schools. He said Starr Park isn't one of those places.

"Where this was dropped is a very prominent, visible, open site," he said. "I've seen people with dogs, sunbathing there in the summer months, kids playing."

Adam Pelley, who lives across the street from the park, said he hopes residents take an empathetic approach to having the shelter nearby.

"I think anybody would admit that this is an imperfect solution to a pretty complicated issue," Pelley said. "I think if people are choosing to live in these shelters then it's a better situation for them than the one they're in before."

Preston Mulligan/CBC
Preston Mulligan/CBC

Municipal staff are working on a report about long and short term solutions to address homelessness in Halifax. The report is expected to be ready for the next council meeting on May 3.

Meanwhile, the municipality is inching closer to opening up new modular housing units in the Centennial Pool parking lot, a project that has been delayed several times.

In its latest update, the municipality said that an occupancy permit has been issued for 36 units at the site, but that an exact move-in date still depends on the province.


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