Neighbour relieved Meagher Park is clear after more than a year next door to homeless camp

Meagher Park was cleared out and fences were set up around perimeter on Aug. 12, 2022. (Craig Paisley/CBC - image credit)
Meagher Park was cleared out and fences were set up around perimeter on Aug. 12, 2022. (Craig Paisley/CBC - image credit)

After 58 weeks of noise, needles and violence at the Meagher Park homeless camp, one neighbour says the return to quiet has been a "nice change."

Halifax Regional Police quietly cleared out the park last week, nearly a month after telling people they must leave.

"Initially all of the neighbours, you know, we really felt for everyone who was experiencing homelessness or was housing insecure," Emily Keast told CBC's Information Morning Halifax on Monday.

"And those feelings started to shift when we were being woken up multiple times a night from noise and fighting [and] when needles started showing up in the area. So it put us in a very difficult spot."

Craig Paisley/CBC
Craig Paisley/CBC

At one point, Keast said she was being woken up upwards of five times a night because of the noise. She said the noise wasn't people having conversations, but "from people fighting and threatening each other."

There was a period of time when Keast said she was blocked from entering or leaving her home because intoxicated people were coming on to her yard.

Not feeling safe at home

"I had an ongoing understanding with my supervisor at work that if I was late, I just needed to let her know and this was the reason again and that I would make up that time later in the day. And that was an ongoing arrangement for 13 and a half months," Keast said.

Some people ended up moving away from the neighbourhood because of issues with the encampment, Keast said.

Robert Guertin/CBC
Robert Guertin/CBC

"Some of my neighbours were having so much trouble with having everything from objects being thrown at their houses to being threatened, to having stolen property and dirty needles on their property," Keast said.

Keast said she was on edge about potential protests at the park. She said she didn't want to see a repeat of Aug. 18, 2021 — when Halifax Regional Police pepper sprayed protesters as an encampment next to the former Spring Garden Road Memorial Library was dismantled.

Keast said she shut off her outdoor power and water tap after people at the park were coming over to use it so frequently, but she turned it back on when police were given the green light to shut down the park.

"No one wants pepper spray. No one wants tear gas. We all just wanted everyone to find safe, affordable housing. And that includes ourselves because we really were not feeling safe," Keast said.

When it comes to how the city and police handled shutting down the encampment, Keast said, "There's a lot of grey."

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

"It's sticky. It's messy because for the longest time, it felt like everyone was passing the buck, giving responsibility to someone else. But we weren't seeing action. And I think we can all do better," Keast said.

"I think everyone needs safe, affordable housing. Everyone needs access to services, if that's their choice to access them. But for it to be going on all winter, I just feel like something had to give and it had to give sooner."

People's Park 'actually shut out many people'

Keast said she wants to see the park restored to how it was before the encampment. While people living at the camp had called it People's Park, she said that was a misnomer "because it actually shut out many people."

Halifax regional councillor Shawn Cleary told CBC's Mainstreet on Monday the city is at a crisis level for homelessness. He said lots of people can't find a place to live because there aren't enough places to live or it's financially out of reach for many.

Craig Paisley/CBC
Craig Paisley/CBC

When it came to Meagher Park, he said it wasn't a suitable place for shelter because of its proximity to a playground, school and daycare.

"There were many safety issues there, including a couple of folks that had taken to throwing bricks and cans of soup and other things at other residents and so that was an unsustainable situation," Clearly said.

Cleary said people who own homes or rent near the park need to be listened to as well. He said the municipality is making an effort to speak with people living rough. While city approved four areas for camping in June, Cleary said they may need more space eventually.

"What we're finding is our sites, they're not full yet — but we can anticipate that in the next few weeks and months they probably will be. And we may need more sites. Hopefully more housing is available by then, but we may need more sites for folks living rough," Cleary said.