A formal request has been made for police to intervene and enforce an evacuation order at a Halifax park that has been the site of a tent camp for a year.
In her letter to Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella, Parks & Recreation executive director Margaret MacDonald said staff had made ‘repeated efforts’ to encourage those sheltering in Meagher Park to leave the site.
“I do not believe that further civil efforts will result in the evacuation of the park, as such I request your assistance in enforcing the relevant provisions of the City Parks By-law and Property Protection Act such as ‘set out in the notice,’ she said. written in the letter dated Wednesday.
Meagher Park, also known as People’s Park, is located on Chebucto Road. Homeless people have been staying there since the police-led evictions from the camp in August 2021.
Halifax considers police intervention after residents refuse to leave Meagher Park
This summer, councilors designated four municipal park sites where people without homes could set up a tent, but also said those staying in Meagher Park should leave by July 17.
Although the deadline has passed, the municipality said there were about four or five residents left, as well as protesters.
In an update released Thursday, the municipality said “some advocates and protesters have indicated their intent to engage in conflict if the municipality enforces the July 5, 2022 notice to vacate and remove people from the park.” .
The update went on to describe an incident that happened on Wednesday evening. According to the municipality, firefighters were called around 6 p.m. in response to a reported bonfire.
“Upon arrival, firefighters found a fire in a pit made up of construction debris and plastic sheeting. Firefighters reminded the approximately four people in the park that there is currently a provincial fire ban in place and ordered the fire extinguished. The individuals refused to extinguish the fire and did not allow firefighters access to put out the fire,” the statement read.
The municipality said firefighters called Halifax Regional Police and officers “spoke to these people in the park and helped the firefighters get to the fire.
In their own statement, Halifax Regional Police said Thursday night that they have an “obligation to protect the public safety of all involved – and to urge efforts toward a safe exit.”
“Previous efforts have failed to clean up the park. The municipality’s ongoing efforts to support people experiencing homelessness have included the provision of additional supports and alternative arrangements, including to those in this location,” the statement read.
“Efforts continue to be made to allow occupants to voluntarily vacate and remove their property from municipal property.”
MacDonald’s letter also said the municipality “will continue to work to ensure supports are provided for those sheltering in the park.”
She said when police enforce the order, the municipality will be able to help with supports, such as transportation to a designated site or alternative accommodation.
“We will also be available to confirm, prior to application, that adequate spaces are available either in a housing option or at a designated outdoor site.”
“One park to another is not the solution”
Meanwhile, a professor at Dalhousie University’s School of Social Work says finding long-term solutions for people living in Meagher Park – and sleeping rough in other places in the municipality – poses a challenge. huge challenges.
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“Safe, affordable and appropriate forms of housing are the real issue,” says Jeff Karabanow, co-director of the university’s community social work clinic. “Moving individuals from one park to another is not the solution.”
Halifax council considers police law enforcement in Meagher Park
The municipality has invested more than $5 million to set up modular units at two sites in Halifax and Dartmouth, accommodating 64 people. But during a presentation to staff earlier this week, council learned there were 18 to 20 spots left at the Halifax location in the Centennial Pool parking lot.
“It’s an important transition between having lived outside for more than a year and an indoor space,” said Max Chauvin, head of special projects for the municipality’s homelessness file.
“Some of the modular candidates have high needs and it takes time.”
“This situation at Meagher cannot continue,” said Dartmouth center adviser Sam Austin. “It’s been going on for too long already and getting worse.”
Chauvin said neighbors had reported “hearing hits” in the park but feared reprisals when they reported to police.
“We have people who have reported to us that they developed PTSD from these experiences,” he said.
The list of concerns, according to city staff, includes a rat problem, property theft, property damage, needles and human feces.
“Current residents have indicated they no longer want to leave and protesters have indicated – both in direct discussions and via social media – their intention to block HRM’s efforts to vacate the park,” Maggie MacDonald said. , the municipality’s executive director for parks. and Leisure.
Police involvement not ideal: professor
In an interview ahead of the municipality’s update on Thursday, Karabanow also said police involvement was not the ideal response.
He suggested further conversations to better understand the needs of homeless people living in the park and to secure some vacant office space.
Four residents stay at Halifax’s Meagher Park on eviction day
“That would have been a smarter way to go, to be able to sort of locate an empty space and be able to create a bit more dignified living space,” he told Global News.
“We are a rich country. Using parks as a band-aid approach to homelessness is really, really problematic.
“We need everyone to work together to find the best solutions,” he said. “There needs to be a respectful way that has a lot of dignity that is safe and non-violent where we try to engage people to go to a different space, a safer space.”
Designated tent sites
In June, city councilors unanimously approved four designated green spaces where people could camp.
The update provided by the municipality on Thursday indicates that there are several vacancies at the tent sites.
The green space on Barrington Street in Halifax has nine tents, with capacity for another 11 tents. Lower Flinn Park has one tent, with capacity for three more.
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On the Dartmouth side, Green Road Park has no tents on site, but has a capacity of eight tents. The Geary Street green space is the only fully occupied site, with three tents and three structures.
The update also noted that there was a fire-damaged tent at the Green Road site on Monday evening. Firefighters were called to the scene and the person who had taken refuge in the tent was not injured.
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