Speaking notes on encampments and the Common

(check against delivery)

I absolutely understand why we are hearing so much about concerns we are hearing around tents on the Halifax Common in other parks.

But as Max said quite clearly, this is not a good short-term solution. We know it is not, but there are no good options for this crisis we face.

Right now, this is about managing the crisis this province finds itself in and how it impacts Halifax.  Allowing tent encampments is not causing homelessness, it is a symptom of a broken system.

We are all proud of our beautiful parks and sportsfields and certainly to the home of the most current tent sites, I hear about it all the time.

We don’t want to be denied access to these spaces we’ve spent generations building and we don’t want to feel unsafe walking around our neighbourhoods.  So why is this even being proposed, I keep hearing this and the answer is there is about 200 people living in tents right now. About 200 people.  The 178 was was June, the are more now,  the number is growing fast.

The provincial social and supportive housing system has failed 200 people.

Let’s think about how horrible that is. That, yeah, some of them are high-needs people, some of them have mental health and or drug issues they are not getting the support they need, but increasing what we are seeing is seniors, children, families, people who simply can’t find a place they can afford to live.

Some are on social assistance, a shocking number including several I talk to are employed as we heard, have cars, driving to work from their tent. Some are couples.

It’s easy to pretend that people who are in tents have chosen homelessness.

And they ARE facing incredible challenges, but increasingly, these challenges are related to affordability and a lack of affordable housing. More and more, people experiencing homelessness and living in tents are your neighbours. Just everyday people, and the circumstances that see people, are becoming less and less rare. So we need to remember htis and see it for what it is.

We need to remember this, and see the problem for what it is.

All citizens have a right to housing and cannot access housing they can afford.

No one wants tents, no one wants tents, including most of the people living in them.  So why are we allowing them?

I say again – allowing tent encampments is not causing homelessness, it is a symptom of a broken system.

From a legal perspective is and residents don’t want to hear it that recent Court ruling say, in Canada say, and there moral perspective that everyone removed from a campsite needs somewhere to go, and it is the province job to provide somewhere for them to go, and they are not doing sufficient work to do that.

Just telling someone in a campsite to move on is not good enough. Imagine you found yourself in a tent, and you were removed. That you had to go and there was nowhere to go?  Imagine what that would be like. You have to live SOMEWHERE.

So all HRM can do is manage a bad situation.

To be clear if there was adequate, affordable, safe, and dignified housing for all these people living in tents, I would say no one should be allowed to camp in a park.

We are past that right now, that is not where we are at, and those folks would love to have somewhere to go. The vast majority of them.

Why isn’t there somewhere to go?

Producing shelter and housing to move these people to is as I said, the Province’s responsibility.

Housing is the responsibility of the Nova Scotia Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing.  Shelters and community services are the responsibility of the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services.  Addiction and mental health support are the responsibility of the Nova Scotia Department of Health.

The government seems to think that this problem will solve itself.  It will not.

As I’ve said before province has failed us, and I am not saying this government, but all the Province, because we have not seen sufficient housing built since the Province took over in 1996. As our population has grown, below-market housing construction has stagnated.  We heard that there’s been 300 new units recently, that’s a drop in the bucket.  Our population has exploded, 50,000 more people have moved here, we need significantly more housing than 300 units

A vague hope that more needed but expensive single-family homes in Port Wallace will lead to more affordable studio apartments for low-income people is not a plan, it is a delusion, a dangerous fantasy.

All we are asking is the Province address this crisis the same way they have the wildfire crisis, where within weeks the province announced $7.4 million on modular homes, or today’s story about buying a motel in Lunenburg to house healthcare workers for $4.7 million. We need them to do this for this crisis

I think Councillor Cleary hit the nail on the head, the municipality is going to have to do more, but that is not for today’s discussion.

We need to live in the current situation and accept these uncomfortable truths, and deal with it the best we can, keeping everybody safe and have somewhere to be.

I’m almost out of time, back to today, I support the recommendations on the floor.

My questions for staff, do we have the resources to do this properly, to the CAO do we have staff, on the record that are going to enforce these rules, because we heard it from Shawn Cleary and we’ve heard it in emails from residents.

  • We need to have adequate designated sites and we need to absolutely enforce those limits on those sites, what everyone is afraid of is if we open up the common it will end up with 300 tents on teh common, it’s big enough to handle that.
  • Do we have the staff to manage the situation?
  • Are we going to do education and enforcement?
  • Are we going to sign the sites to say how many tents can be there?
  • Tell them what number to call if they don’t have anywhere to be?
  • How are we going to implement a rapid enforcement model similar to the one we already use on playgrouschools and daycares nad playgrounds and cemeteries and heritage sites where within 24 hours we are notifying the tenter they have to move because we just can’t have them there?
  • Will open fire be banned?
  • Will staff commit to ensuring an adequate supply of tent sites, so we are not back here in a couple months, we’ve talked but we are going to need 100 more tent sites, and we need to designate them right away or we will be back where we are now with a site for in Victoria Park designated for 8 with 35 tents