Halifax gives group one week to remove temporary shelters from city property

The Halifax Regional Municipality have issued a notice that occupants of temporary shelters located on municipal property have one week to vacate the structures before they are removed.

In a statement issued Tuesday morning, the municipality says the group that installed the temporary shelters must remove them from city property by July 13. If they are not removed by that date, the municipality will remove them.

“Housing as a human right does not mean that this right can encroach upon the rights of others. With the safety of all residents as a top priority, encroachment must be acted upon by appropriate enforcement of existing laws and regulations,” says the release. "Placing anything in a park for the purpose of temporary or permanent accommodation is not permitted under By-Law P-600 Section 8(2)”.

Halifax Mutual Aid, a volunteer group, built 13 of the small wooden framed structures throughout the city earlier this year. There are several in front of Halifax's old library on Spring Garden Road, and others scattered on both sides of the bridges.

In an interview with CTV News last month, a group spokesperson said all 13 of the shelters were fully occupied, and there were also 21 people on its waiting list.

"It was really important to us that people had somewhere safe with a roof over their head with a lock on their door," said Halifax Mutual Aid spokesperson Campbell McClintock.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Halifax Mutual Aid said they do not intend to remove the crisis shelters until there is no longer an urgent need for them.

The statement says since January, the crisis shelters have offered a needed addition to a shelter system that “is buckling under the pressure of the housing crisis.”

“This change in policy will further endanger the growing number of people in our community without long-term housing, especially given the current conditions,” says the statement. “Conventional shelters are forced to police and exclude some people, and in these cases crisis shelters are necessary to offer occupants safety from environmental and human threats. The waiting list of people who need a crisis shelter continues to grow.”

The group adds that they are “hesitant to potentially violate occupant’s Section 7 Charter Rights, the guarantee to the right to life, liberty, and security, as it was attributed to homeless encampments in a 2015 ruling by the BC Supreme Court.”

According to the HRM, the province has been working to ensure all current occupants of the temporary shelters will be offered a temporary accommodation option that can bridge to permanent housing.

The municipality says to date, five individuals who had previously been occupying a temporary shelter have accepted a housing solution.

“The municipality’s approach to homeless encampments centres on treating people experiencing homelessness in our public spaces with dignity while working to find ways to best support them within our capacity and scope as a municipality. From the outset, the approach has been to allow occupants of homeless encampments to remain until adequate housing has been identified and offered, or until the health and safety of the occupants or public are at risk. This approach does not condone or support the installation of infrastructure associated with encampments,” says the release.

The city says they allowed the shelters to remain on municipal property for several months while the province, and community partners offered support to those experiencing homelessness, and removal of the shelters was further postponed until COVID-19 related public health restrictions were eased.

“Moving forward, upon being made aware of the installation of temporary shelters on municipal property, the municipality will take steps to facilitate removal or stop installation in a timely manner. It is important to remember that those experiencing homelessness can choose to accept or decline housing options and offers of support,” says the release.

The municipality says more information on their approach to homelessessness and initiatives to support affordable housing can be found on the Halifax website.