Halifax Council Approves 9 New Homeless Camp Sites

Halifax Council Approves 9 New Homeless Camp Sites
Halifax Council Approves 9 New Homeless Camp Sites

Halifax councillors have approved a list of parks where new designated homeless encampments could be built as a “pressure relief” after the current sites were overcrowded and could only accommodate about half of the city’s 150 homeless people.

As of June 25, there were 88 tents or structures in Halifax’s four designated homeless sites, with a total capacity of 30. There were also 13 tents in Northbrook Park in Dartmouth, nine at the old Halifax Memorial Library, and multiple encampments in other non-designated urban locations, with more in rural areas.

“What a horrible choice. Our choice now is which of our public spaces are we going to give up,” Councilman Sam Austin said during Tuesday’s council meeting.

The list of names of homeless people in Halifax has also grown to 1,316 people.

9 locations selected in Halifax, Dartmouth

After scanning hundreds of parks across the city, staff came up with a list of 10 parks that were not too close to schools, playgrounds, gardens or culturally sensitive areas and were close to public transportation and other amenities.

Bill Moore, director of Halifax’s community safety department, said staff tried to balance the needs of homeless people with the impact on people living near encampments.

“We’re really looking for the best of the worst options,” Moore said. “This would be a small relief from the pressure, but if we continue to see the increase in numbers … we’ll be looking for additional spaces.”

After a lengthy debate, the council approved a list of nine parks that municipal staff can open if necessary:

  • Bayers Road Windsor Street Park (Halifax).
  • BiHi Park (Halifax).
  • Chain Lake Park (Halifax).
  • Cogswell Park (Halifax).
  • Glebe Street Park (Halifax).
  • Halifax Common verge (near Oval).
  • Green space Geary Street (Dartmouth).
  • Bissett Road Park (Dartmouth).
  • Point Pleasant Park (Halifax) is a park in the North Carolina region.

Staff suggested opening a few parks in the first round, including Cogswell Park on Windsor Street, Glebe Street Park on the north side and part of Halifax Common by the Oval. We would then review the list as necessary.

“Every time we start this conversation we need to make it clear … that this is a provincial responsibility and we’re just doing the best we can with the resources we have,” said Councillor Lisa Blackburn.

The council approved Austin’s request to swap Starr Park on Prince Albert Road for the Geary Street space. Austin said that as painful as it would be to reopen the Geary Street location that was demolished earlier this year, it was still better than Starr Park, which has a busy walking path and many residents.

Farrell Street Park in north Dartmouth was also removed at the suggestion of Councillor Tony Mancini, as the city spent money on sprucing up the area to improve safety, installing new lighting and landscaping, and clearing a path following the death of 18-year-old Chelsie Probert in the park.

It is unclear how many tent sites would be allowed at each encampment, or when exactly they would open. There would be municipal amenities such as water and portable toilets, and fencing if needed.

Moore said opening more locations will allow city workers and traffic control officers to move people away from the overcrowded University Avenue location, where violence has occurred and people who work nearby or visit hospitals have suffered the consequences.

It also means people can be moved out of sensitive, non-designated areas, such as Northbrook Park in Dartmouth, which has a playground and is a popular shortcut for residents going to the Sobeys on Wyse Road.

Moore said there have been reports of vandalism, late-night noise and scuffles between encampment residents and people trying to use the space, so now a local daycare and nearby families are no longer using it. In one incident, city workers were evicted from the site, Moore said, and the city is working with other service providers to better assist residents in the park who are experiencing “real problems.”

“We can’t just let that place collapse,” Austin said.

People have also been given until July 15 to move from Grafton Street Park near the old Halifax Memorial Library on Spring Garden Road. Staff said it is a culturally sensitive area where tents should not be erected, similar to Africville Park or the Public Gardens.

A tent outside the old Halifax Memorial Library on Spring Garden Road on July 8, 2024. People at the site have been given until July 15 to relocate. (CBC channel)

Several council members asked how the new camps would be managed. Moore said there would be more staff support and presence at the sites compared to the past, and the city is working to establish citizen-led teams with experts such as social workers who can help if problems arise.

Moore added that the province has also set up teams to provide mental health services to people in camps.

Councillor Paul Russell said he was concerned that allowing a site on the Common would mean tents would spill over into the rest of the green space and sports fields, and that a site on Point Pleasant Park would pose additional risks if fires got out of control.

Lindell Smith and Waye Mason, the council members for those areas, asked to keep them on the list because people are already setting up tents there and space is needed on the peninsula to address overcrowding on University Avenue.

“If we don’t designate it, then we’ll just allow tents all over the Common,” Smith said. “We can at least try to centralize it into one area.”

One of the nine new options for a designated site is the green space of Halifax Common near the Oval along North Park Street, circled in red. (Google Maps)

City officials said at the meeting that the second round of sites would include an encampment at Point Pleasant Park, if needed. It would likely be built next to the upper parking lot on Tower Road.

The city is preparing a new camp at the corner of Bancroft Lane and Marketplace Drive on Wrights Cove in Dartmouth, but that larger location likely won’t be ready until mid-September.

Staff will bring an update on the camp to council in November, by which time they hope to have implemented provincial projects such as individual pallet shelters and a tiny house community in Lower Sackville.