Homeless sector groups call for alternative to police action at Meagher Park

People sheltering at Meagher Park were ordered by the municipality to leave by July 17.  (CBC - image credit)
People sheltering at Meagher Park were ordered by the municipality to leave by July 17. (CBC - image credit)

Homeless sector service providers and advocacy groups in Halifax are calling on the city to reconsider its decision to involve police in the relocation of residents living in a park in the city's west end.

Over a dozen groups are named in a letter shared on Twitter Friday night that lists 10 recommendations for an "alternative path forward" to relocate the residents of Meagher Park, also known as People's Park.

Several of the groups named in the statement have shared it on their own Twitter feeds. Dalhousie Legal Aid Service has also endorsed the statement on Twitter.

"These recommendations are primarily informed by the people staying in the park, as well as the collective wisdom of the homeless serving sector," the statement said.

The letter states that service providers will offer their units or spaces to house the people staying at the park, given the space is "culturally safe and appropriate" and where the person wants to go.

"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 7 days to implement this alternative."

Miia Suokonautio, executive director of YWCA Halifax, said in an interview that the letter was the result of ongoing "key informant" interviews with people sleeping at the park.

"The recommendations are really a reflection of what people themselves have been saying," Suokonautio said.

After the municipality released a statement Thursday evening stating it had officially requested help from police to remove people from the encampment, Suokonautio said the groups discussed a response based on the interviews.

HRM to respond 'in the coming days'

In an email, Ryan Nearing, a spokesperson for Halifax Regional Municipality, said the municipality is "aware of yesterday's letter from various service providers."

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

At a special meeting Tuesday, councillors touted the modular units and four designated tenting areas that have been established in the municipality. But critics say those solutions aren't working for everyone.

People sheltering at the park were ordered by the municipality to leave by July 17.

In an email, Coun. Shawn Cleary said although the park isn't in his district, he has frequently been contacted by nearby residents about harassment and vandalism from park occupants. He also noted that there are concerns about violence and reports of fires in the park.

"It is not a sustainable situation," he said.

Cleary pointed to the efforts HRM has made, including the modular units, designated tent sites and fast-tracked rezoning to encourage affordable housing and shelters.

New location

Suokonautio said the groups recognize the investments that have been made by the three levels of government.

"But in the absence of those consultations with the people who they're intended to serve, you risk making policy or programmatic decisions that don't hit the mark," she said.

The letter also calls for a new location for the residents of the park to be determined "in consultation and with the consent of the affected individuals and their community of support."

The new site should be equipped with running water, garbage collection, bathrooms and storage for belongings, the letter says.

The groups are also calling for the existing shelters from Meagher Park to be relocated to the new site and for funding to establish "a council or advisory of people staying there."

Suokonautio said this is something she's seen work in other jurisdictions.

"Someone who lives in their own home can decide who comes in, comes out, who stays for dinner," she said, adding that the council would provide people with more safety, dignity and autonomy.

"I feel like we fall into this trap of an us and them mentality," she said. "What we encourage people to consider is there's us and then more us."