Halifax won't 'force' shelter evictions, says mayor as deadline passes

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Halifax removed three emergency shelters days before the eviction deadline of July 13 as they said they were vacant or no longer needed. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)
Halifax removed three emergency shelters days before the eviction deadline of July 13 as they said they were vacant or no longer needed. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)

Despite an eviction notice saying people living in crisis shelters around Halifax had to be out by Tuesday, the city's mayor now says the deadline was a preferred "timeline" and no forced evictions would go ahead.

Last week, the city posted eviction notices on 11 shelters, saying that people living there had to be gone by July 13, after which point the shelters and items inside would be removed by the municipality.

But on Tuesday, Mayor Mike Savage described the city's communication as a "timeline."

"I'm not going to force a deadline and say if people aren't out by this point in time then they're going to be forcibly removed. That's not my intent," Savage told reporters outside City Hall.

"We're not intending to have any kind of a confrontation over this. We don't want to criminalize homelessness. We just want to find a solution that's safe for everybody."

CBC
CBC

A number of the shelters were built by the volunteer group Halifax Mutual Aid. The small structures have steel roofs and plywood walls covered with weather-resistant house wrap.

The shelters, which popped up on several HRM properties over the last few months, violate a bylaw against creating accommodation on municipal land.

Three temporary shelters located in public parks were already "determined to be vacant" and taken down on Friday, according to a release from the city.

But, Halifax Mutual Aid said via Twitter that two people were still using those shelters. They also said they have a long wait list of people hoping to move in.

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

The group has said they are now taking some shelters down to keep them in storage.

The municipality has said it is making sure those using the shelters work with street navigators, the provincial Department of Community Services and support workers to find a housing option that works for them.

One of those options could be a local hotel.

Ten community groups joined together Tuesday to denounce the city's approach of evicting people from the crisis shelters on municipal property.

Mark Culligan, a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid, which took part in the letter, said the complex reasons why people may experience homelessness also make it very difficult to stay in group shelters or hotels.

CBC
CBC

"We don't think that this hotel plan is much of a plan at all. It's a temporary solution and it's part of a larger effort by the province to deal with the housing crisis by getting it out of sight and out of mind," Culligan told CBC's Maritime Noon Tuesday.

Savage said Tuesday he finds it hard to suggest the crisis shelters are safer than being in a hotel. Although people can always make their own decisions, Savage said hotels offer running water, a warm bed, and opportunity for a "dignified life."

He added that people are staying in the shelters "because the option has been presented to them. We hope we have better options."

But Culligan said it's still unclear exactly how long people will be allowed to stay in these hotel situations.

There have already been issues with people getting evicted from hotel stays for alleged behavioural reasons, Culligan said, and as more tourists come into the province the hotels will see less incentive in hosting those who are homeless, or on income assistance.

Halifax Mutual Aid has also tweeted that the city's hotel offer is very narrow, and only applies to those specifically in the pop-up shelters. As of April, there were about 438 people experiencing homelessness in the Halifax region.

Jeff Karabanow, professor at Dalhousie University and one of the directors of the Dalhousie Social Work Community Clinic, also took part in the letter calling for Halifax to abandon their plan to remove the shelters.

"I just don't think it's the time now for kind of a heavy-handed approach," Karabanow said Tuesday.

CBC
CBC

Although Karabanow said the pop-up shelters aren't the answer to homelessness, and can encroach on public space, they do provide basic shelter and a sense of community.

He said moving around people already living with mental health, addiction, or trauma issues for short stints at a time in hotels will "really increase" their levels of stress and strain and won't bring about a lasting solution.

Karabanow said besides more affordable housing, there needs to be an intentional "housing platform" where the city purchases a few places that can be developed into supportive environments.

"Everyone knows that's the solution. I think we just really have to push that, it's political will now," he said.

The groups behind the joint letter include the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, the Nova Scotia Action Coalition for Community Well-Being, the Coverdale Courtwork Society, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, the Canadian Federation of Students – Nova Scotia, Professor Jeff Karabanow, ACORN – Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Health Coalition, and Adsum for Women and Children.

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