Council Update: Encampments, Solid Waste Review, Micromobility

Northbrook Park

Agenda, July 9

Encampments
The issue of encampments was back before Council and the situation isn’t pretty. As I wrote in my e-newsletter last week, new Provincial housing spaces are delayed and won’t be ready until the fall at the earliest. This has put HRM back into a situation where existing designated sites are overcrowded, and encampments have started to grow in undesignated locations. There is hope that things will be better in the fall when the delayed Provincial spaces come online, but in the here and now of July, there is simply nothing available. In District 5, the result is the designated site at Green Road is severely overcrowded, and Northbrook Park has become a rapidly growing undesignated encampment site.

Court cases have established a Charter protected right to shelter on public land when there are no alternatives, which means HRM can’t move anyone unless the municipality can offer alternative options. The result is that HRM’s only immediate option to alleviate overcrowding at existing designated sites and relocate folks out of undesignated locations is to create additional designated encampment sites. HRM has to be able to answer the basic human question of “if I can’t stay here, where can I go?” So the choice before Council was an awful one: what public spaces should we turn into homeless encampments? It doesn’t get much more dystopian.

HRM didn’t come to this decision lightly. The municipality has asked the feds and province for land, and has even tried to lease land from the private sector. Neither of those efforts has produced any sites. Trying to find land for a homeless encampment is a tough sell, leaving HRM parks as the only remaining option. In Dartmouth, the choice boiled down to this:

  1. Don’t designate any additional locations and leave Green Road and Northbrook Park as is
  2. Designate additional sites including Farrell Park and Starr Park in Dartmouth
  3. Reopen the previously closed Geary Street Green Space

With Northbrook Park falling apart, Option 1, doesn’t work. Northbrook is small and narrow with homes and apartments on all sides. It’s a neighbourhood shortcut, HRM has spent considerable sums in recent years on park improvements, it has almost no street access/visibility, and it’s home to a playground that, until recently, was used daily by a nearby non-profit daycare. It’s a terrible site for an encampment. In past and current staff analysis, Northbrook has never ever even made it into the maybe pile. In the absence of alternative options though, HRM is unable to relocate people out of Northbrook Park. Option 1 of doing nothing and allowing homeless encampments to continue growing with no planning at all in places like Northbrook Park is a terrible option.

Northbrook Park is small and narrow with existing park uses and no separation from neighbours

Option 2, designate both Starr and Farrell Parks is also problematic. Starr Park is located near Sullivan’s Pond along Prince Albert Road. Like Northbrook, Starr is actually a very narrow space with little to no separation from neighbours. The Lock4@Starr condo backs onto the Park on one side and homes front the Park on the other side. The Park is a also a shortcut between Ochterloney and Pleasant and in the last 10 years, HRM has spent over $1,000,000 on heritage interpretation of the old Marine Railway. Starr Park isn’t a good site. Adding to that, the last time folks were sheltering in Starr Park, it ended in a violent confrontation between a homeless man and a nearby resident and, eventually, vigilante action to remove the Mutual Aid shelter that had been dropped there.

Starr Park

Farrell Park is located in Dartmouth North just one street outside District 5 in District 6. Farrell Park saw extensive work just eight years ago to fix up the space after a young women, Chelsie Probert, was murdered there. It is home to a playground and is a destination for vulnerable youth attending the Boys and Girls Club. Homes back and front onto it and it’s also a neighbourhood shortcut to and from Albro Wyse Road. Councillor Mancini was, understandably, not thrilled to have Farrell Park on the list and I can understand why. It’s not a good site. Both of the staff recommended Dartmouth locations are terrible options.

Farrell Street Park

Option 3, reopen Geary Street, was the objectively best choice of these three terrible options. Geary Street has the most separation from neighbours of the four Dartmouth parks, it has good street visibility, and unlike Northbrook, Farrell, and Starr, Geary has no activities that would be displaced by allowing people to shelter in it. Allowing folks to shelter in the space doesn’t close a playground. It doesn’t take away any public space from the community because no one except the homeless have ever used the Geary Street space for anything.

Geary’s one clear downside is its proximity to the nearby modular housing units that are run by Out of the Cold. This proximity was problematic when Geary was used as an encampment site in the past. Putting Geary back to use will require thought as to how dynamics between the encampment and the Out of the Cold space are managed. Council voted 13-1 (mayor voted against) for my motion to swap out Starr Park for Geary Street and then, later, unanimously to remove Farrell Park from the list of sites.

Geary Street Green Space

When Geary was used as an encampment in the past, it wasn’t an issue free space and there were impacts on neighbours in Harbourview. They understandably, feel that they’ve done their share and that it’s someone elses turn to host an encampment. I get it. Living in an encampment is awful for the folks who have to do it and its awful for everyone around them. I know Harbourview well. In 10 years, I don’t think I have ever missed a Neighbourhood Association meeting. I understand that many folks in the neighbourhood don’t want Geary Street reopened. My job though is to try and make the best of the terrible situation we’re in. Geary Street is terrible politics for me personally, but it is objectively the least harmful space to give up in District 5. I’m sorry to everyone in Harbourview that is upset and frustrated with this decision. I wish there was another way.

So what happens next? Staff will setup new sites and then notices will be given to folks sheltering in Northbrook Park. HRM will go through the same process the municipality has used in past encampment closures, which involves working with folks to look at what their options are and providing assistance, if desired, in relocating them to other spaces. Involving the police would be an absolute option of last resort. It will take some time for this process to play out, but the end goal is to close the Northbrook Park encampment.

HRM is also hoping to be able to mitigate some of the negative impacts of encampments in the designated locations. In questions from Council yesterday, staff revealed that the funding that Council allocated for additional staff to proceed with a managed encampment approach might turn out to be less site specific than originally planned. HRM’s team might be more mobile, providing a presence in multiple encampment sites every day, although not 24/7. If the municipality is able to deliver on staffing for encampments, this would be quite different from the past where designated sites operated with very little scheduled support.

With Provincial spaces coming online in the fall, Council also approved my amendment directing staff to return to Council with an update on all designated locations in November. My hope is that Geary Street won’t be needed beyond November and that redesignating it will turn out to be a short-term, 5-6 month measure, to get us to the point where the upcoming pallet shelters open. The Province delivering on the delayed pallets will be key. The need for people to shelter outside in HRM Parks only goes away if the Province creates supportive housing units to meet the need.

Solid Waste Review/Cart Based Collection
Council approved proceeding with Phase 2 of developing a new Solid Waste Strategy. The Phase 2 work will include public consultation later this year before a final report comes to Council in the New Year. The key themes that staff are looking at are:

  • What Extended Producer Responsibility will mean
  • Reaching a disposal per capita of 300 kg per person by 2030
  • Aligning the Solid Waste Strategy with HRM’s climate change plan, HalifACT
  • Promoting the circular economy
  • Evaluating switching curbside collection to a full cart-based program
  • Evaluating the household special waste program
  • Evaluating the new compost facility
  • Evaluating the rural depot program
  • Reviewing governance items such as benchmark measures and the Solid Waste by-aw, S-600

I wanted to take a moment to focus on the idea of switching the collection from bags to carts since this is something that I have pushed staff to evaluate in the past. The results of the staff’s review is that an automated cart-based collection system would make sense for garbage, but not recycling. The reason to leave recycling out is that extended producer responsibility could mean that the delivery of recycling programs shifts from HRM to industry. So the early view is that garbage could join organics in a cart-based approach. Cart collection will be part of the upcoming public consultation and will come to Council as a stand-alone report in 2025.

Rental Scooters in Downtown Dartmouth. Photo: Global

Micromobility
Council gave first reading to amendments to HRM’s micromobility bylaw to better enable the coming pilot project around bikeshare and scooter rentals. HRM will be going out to tender shortly to secure up to two providers who are interested in operating a bike and scooter program in HRM. The goal is to launch the HRM sanctioned program by April 1, 2025.

The bylaw amendments under consideration will prohibit providers who don’t have a contract with HRM from using municipal roads and sidewalks for storage of scooters and bikes. If a trip begins or ends on municipal property, the provider will need to be part of the upcoming pilot project and have a contract with the municipality. The goal is to have bikes and scooters readily available for pick-up and drop-off in designated spaces and corrals instead of the current anarchy where scooters are just left wherever the last person who had them signed out and where bike share doesn’t exist at all. The bylaw amendments are planned to take effect as of December 1.

Other

  • Received a presentation for Events East
  • Considered an information report on road closure procedures
  • Gave first reading for amendments to the marketing bylaw allowing HRM to require short-term rental providers, like AirBNB, to collect the marketing levy on behalf of property owners
  • Directed staff to bring forward amendments to increase the fines for dangerous dogs
  • Entered into a new taxation agreement with the Airport that will see taxes paid under the tax agreement more strongly tied to passenger counts
  • Voted to begin park planning for the Halifax Memorial Library site, which could culminate in the demolition of the old library if HRM’s efforts to find someone else who wants to put the old building to use continues to come up blank
  • Gave first reading to amendments to the User Fee Bylaw to implement a $0.25 increase in transit fares as Council directed during budget deliberations
  • Approved a park plan for Indigo Shores in Sackville
  • Initiated planning amendments to consider a mixed-use development at 5249 St. Margarets Bay Road
  • Reviewed Phase 1 of the HRM’s review of the municipality’s Committee system
  • Gave the Mooseland and Area Community Association more time to work out a proposal to purchase the community hall
  • Approved reallocating leftover funding in the public wifi account to pay for replacing the microphones in Halifax Hall that are used by various HRM boards and committees and to upgrade the hearing hotspot improvements in Council Chambers to enable folks with hearing impairments to better follow proceedings
  • Provided a letter of support to the Community Solar Program for SolarBank’s proposal in West Petpeswick
  • Set the date for the preliminary list of electors to be completed by August 30 and that notification be mailed to residents so that they know whether they’re on the voting list
  • Requested a staff report on supporting the Shubenacadie Canal Commission’s application for designation as a waterway in the Canadian Heritage River System
  • Approved grants in the Schmidtville and Old South Suburb heritage districts
  • Requested staff reports on providing more specific guidelines as to waht is permitted under HRM’s Dangerous and Unslightly Premises bylaw, and on introducing height restrictions around Lake Micmac similiar to those that exist around Lake Banook

1 Comment

  1. Yes,by all means,let’s tear the old bldg down-out with the old , in with the new. Hang the cost! Don’t ever think of repurposing the bldg into office space, etc. I would like to know how much office space in HRM is rented/leased from private sector developers, etc. Maybe a repurpose could reduce the use of rental units from private sector and actually save the heritage facade of this grand old bldg.

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