A week ago, a shed showed up on a small piece of municipal land in Downtown Dartmouth. The shed was dropped off by Halifax Mutual Aid for a homeless man who had been tenting there for a few months. CBC ran with the story, which included a good interview with Paul, the man who now lives in the shed. It brought public attention to homelessness and a recent policy change on how HRM deals with people sleeping rough on public property: HRM will no longer forcibly evict anyone if they have no place to go.
HRM’s new policy is an empathy-based, human rights approach that recognizes everyone has a right to a home. Forcibly evicting someone who is living outside on municipal land because they don’t have any other options doesn’t address the underlying issue: they don’t have a home! It just makes them even more vulnerable as they get pushed around. Camps aren’t a solution to homelessness, but forcibly evicting someone takes a bad situation and makes it even worse.
People living on the street are there for a variety of reasons. Poverty underlines it all, but some are also struggling with issues around trauma, addiction, and mental health. They’re there because we as a society have failed them, and the sad thing is, we’ve always failed them. Homelessness isn’t new. What’s changed recently is the numbers. The tight rental market, the disappearance of rooming houses, and COVID-19 has meant that the current situation has gone from bad to worse.
There are a lot of deep structural issues as to why people are living on our streets. Our Province has the second lowest social assistance rates in the country (only New Brunswick’s are worse). Who can live on $600 a month? Over the last 20 years, no Provincial government has added any new off-market housing, even as the population has grown and income inequality has worsened. The rent supplements that the Province has favoured are helpful to some, but we desperately need more off-market housing and, importantly, supportive housing to provide space for people who face challenges that make living independently difficult. We need meaningful Provincial investments in housing and social programs. There have been some recent positive announcements around funding for non-profits, but non-profits can’t make up for inadequate Provincial action.
HRM can help by supporting non-profits, and through land-use planning. A lot of work has been done over the last few years on both, and there is still more to do. Homelessness isn’t a problem, however, that can be solved by City Hall alone. We desperately need the Province to do more or alternatively, as Councillor Mason’s 2018 motion regarding housing has suggested, give HRM the authority and tax power to pay for it and get out of the way. The Province collects around $175 million from HRM, which means that Provincial services are actually a large portion of your property tax bill. Most of that money goes to education (90%), with the rest split between corrections and Metro Housing. If the Province returned housing responsibility to HRM, shifted the cost of education and corrections to Provincial taxes where they logically belong, and left HRM some of the tax room that they’re currently occupying, we could build a lot of housing!
So if HRM isn’t going to forcibly remove camps, what will the municipality do? Allowing camps isn’t a solution to homelessness. HRM’s goal is to work with camp residents to find them housing. The primary vehicle for that is the Street Navigator program. The Street Navigator program is a partnership between HRM and the four urban core business improvement districts to provide dedicated support staff to try and help connect the homeless with the services they need. That work is ongoing and is of course hampered by the reality that the social programs that the Street Navigators have to work with are inadequate.
One final note, on Mutual Aid. The group organized a protest last week that was pretty well covered in the press and generated a lot of discussion on social media. Mutual Aid feared that HRM would remove the shelters. That wasn’t the case, at least not for occupied shelters. HRM won’t remove a shelter that’s being used. The municipal policy is no forced evictions.
The issue arose when Mutual Aid placed a second shelter at the Downtown Dartmouth site. The only one who had been tenting there is Paul from the CBC story, who had already been provided with a temporary shelter. When the second shelter was put in the Park, it was empty, and no one else had been staying at that spot previously, so HRM planned to remove it. Providing a temporary shelter for someone sleeping rough where they are is different than deciding to erect one to move someone to. Allowing an anonymous group, even one with good intentions, to create encampment sites, with limited to no consultation with anyone else, and with few supporting services to make sure that the resulting camp is safe isn’t a good plan. If the sad outcome of our housing crisis is we’re going to create a temporary shelter village, that should be something that isn’t decided and planned by Mutual Aid acting alone. So far, Mutual Aid has been unwilling to talk to HRM. Hopefully that will change in the future.
The creation of new affordable housing will take time. In the here and now, the best immediate solution isn’t Mutual Aid sheds, it’s for the Province to rebook the hotel spaces they were operating in the early days of COVID to make sure there is indoor space for everyone. I’m open to HRM playing a role in helping to alleviate the immediate crisis, whether it’s land, facilities, or some other resources, but it will really require the Province to come to the table. Lisa Roberts, the MLA for Halifax Needham, has an excellent blog post up on the Provincial side of housing that is well worth a read
Lisa Roberts Blog
Give Lisa’s blog a read and write your MLA, the Liberal leadership contenders (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org), and the Minister for Housing, Chuck Porter (email@example.com). I have become increasingly convinced over the last several years that absolutely nothing is ever going to change on many ongoing issues that HRM has with the Province unless people demand it. Lobbying from Council isn’t enough. The Province needs to feel every bit of the pressure that HRM does. Unless they do, change seems unlikely. Now’s the time to speak up.
Flower Streets Complete Streets:
The Flower Streets Complete Project is heading to Council. HRM has completed two virtual rounds of public engagement and a recommendation report for street design changes is now heading to Harbour East Council. What is being recommended is broadly in line with what I reported in my December e-news.
The plan is to install a crosswalk at Victoria Road to facilitate access to the Common from Dahlia. The new crosswalk will be equipped with a rapid flashing beacon (same sort of system that exists at Dahlia and Maple now). Curb extensions and speed bumps will also be installed on Dahlia. One of the biggest improvements in the project for pedestrians is a new sidewalk. The new sidewalk will be put in on Oak Street and will wrap around to Dahlia, via Crichton before ending at Beech. The new sidewalk will deal with the challenges that exist in getting to Sullivan’s Pond by foot from the Flower Streets. Finally, a multi-use path will be added to the area behind the Rhodendrons at Sullivan’s Pond to allow cyclists to connect to the Banook Greenway from Dahlia Street without being in traffic.
In terms of trade-offs, one street tree will be lost (big poplar in front of 1 Oak Street) and on street parking will be impacted on Dahlia between Beech and Crichton and on Oak Street between Tulip and Crichton. On street parking will otherwise be unaffected and Dahlia will remain a two-way street. Assuming Council approves the plan, HRM plans to proceed with construction this year. You can read the staff report here.
Bridge Tolls and Plan:
On Friday, the Bridge Commission submitted an application to increase the tolls on the Macdonald and MacKay Bridges. The request is to raise cash fares from $1.00 to $1.25 and MACPASS fares from $0.80 to $1.00. If the Utility and Review Board approves the application, the new fares will come into effect January 3, 2022.
The toll application has been made to pay for the Bridge Commission’s 10 year capital plan which includes significant repairs. The Macdonald and MacKay Bridges are both over 50 years old and require ongoing work, as does some of the approach infrastructure. The Bridge Commission would also like to replace the tolling system and begin work on planning for the replacement of the MacKay Bridge. It has been ten years since the tolls were last raised.
It’s been a long-time coming, but the tender for the Cogswell project has been released. The work that had delayed the tender for the last little while has been finalizing a land swap with Crombie. HRM needed Crombie’s property at the end of Granville Mall to make the future street grid and park space possible. Crombie is being given an equivalent piece of property nearby in the Cogswell. With the real estate details finalized, the construction tender has been released to the three pre-screened bidders. If the tendering process goes as planned, actual construction work could begin this fall.
Live-Streaming HRM Rinks:
With COVID, a lot has changed around HRM’s rinks. Where stands were once full of spectators for kids activities, they’re now empty. A lot of hockey groups have adapted by live-streaming events for parents. Unfortunately, this has run up against HRM’s policy that prohibits filming kids in municipal facilities. There are, unfortunately, some very good reasons for being cautious about filming kids! Prohibiting filming has actually been the rule for years, but the big demand for livestreaming created by COVID has only now pushed it forward as an issue. After hearing from parents, HRM and Hockey Nova Scotia have worked out a solution. Live-streaming will be allowed at the discretion of the ice renter. Rental agreements will be updated.
Accessing HRM Facilities During COVID:
Another ongoing challenge for operating facilities caused by COVID is limited space. This is particularly true at the Oval and HRM’s various pools. Bookings need to be made in advance, which often means that available spaces are all gone in the first minute that they become available. I know that’s very frustrating. My family is also missing our regular swims at the Zatzman Sportsplex. There isn’t a whole lot that HRM can do here though because the only real fix is to increase capacity, something that is entirely dependent on public health needs.
To try and spread the limited spaces around a bit more, HRM is now allowing registration for Oval times 48 hours in advance. Bookings become available at noon each day. Additional skate times have also been added and, in consultation with Public Health, capacity has been increased to 240 (still well under the 1,500 that would often take to the Oval on a busy day pre-COVID). The increased capacity though means masks are now mandatory at all times at the Oval since physical distancing becomes harder and harder to maintain as the number of skaters increases.
Over at the Sportsplex, pool and program times are also in very short supply and there is even less that can be done to add more space (there are only so many lanes). As of today, the Sportsplex is introducing new policies to curb no-shows and limits on the number of bookings of the same activity that people can make per day to two.
I know it’s frustrating trying to get space. It’s unfortunately what we have to contend with for now. Hopefully life will start to look a bit more normal later this year as more and more people get vaccinated.
We’re at the end of January, but there hasn’t been much winter and the weather forecast for this week is calling for more balmy conditions. Although some ice has formed on the lakes, it’s still not safe to venture out. Mild conditions mean there is lots of open water and the ice that does exist is very thin. Stay off the lakes!
HRM does test ice thickness at many locations throughout the municipality. If we get a good freeze and the ice thickens you can check conditions at your favourite lake online on the municipality’s website here. HRM takes measurements once a week.
If you’ve been out and about in Crichton Park over the last week or so, you may have come across arborists hard at work trimming street trees. The pruning in Crichton Park and near Little Albro Lake is part of the program of work set out in HRM’s urban forestry plan. As part of the plan, HRM has committed to visit each street tree every seven years. This is year one on Crichton Park and Little Albro’s seven year cycle.
The idea of a seven year tree pruning cycle is to work proactively to avoid problems and shape the canopy to minimize the potential for future issues. Proactive work saves urgent 311 calls later on!
I have received a few notes of concern about the scope of the pruning. HRM’s work is guided by our urban foresters who are professionally trained and, collectively, have decades of experience in the field. The municipality values our street trees. The work is to ensure that they continue to be as healthy and as problem free as possible. Trimming is done with the tree’s health in mind. I know several of our foresters well and I have every confidence in the judgment of HRM’s professional tree huggers!
I have been getting a steady stream of questions as to what’s up with the construction site at Prince Albert and Glenwood. Folks have noticed that construction appears to be proceeding at a very leisurely pace. The relocation of the crane on site sparked a lot of questions. All I can say is that there has been no formal or informal indication to HRM of any intent to change plans. It’s still a hotel construction site. All permits are in order.
Northbrook Community Garden:
Have you always wanted to join a community garden in your neighbourhood? If you live around Northbrook Park there may be an opportunity. I was recently contacted by a nearby resident who would like to start a garden in the former sports field off Richmond Street. The field is big and would appear to have enough space for the informal uses that already happen there plus a garden. The main challenge right now is identifying if there are other people in the area who would like to participate to make a garden possible. If you’re interested in getting involved, please contact Amy Coutts at firstname.lastname@example.org
Woodside Ferry Terminal Renovations:
Work at the Woodside Ferry Terminal is moving along. Earlier this month the old escalators were removed. On Friday, the existing stairs were blocked off to allow for demolition work to continue. Access to the ferry will be through a set of temporary stairs or via the two recently installed elevators. I know renovations are a pain. It’s truly short-term pain for long-term gain at Woodside.
Community Grants Program:
It’s the time of year for grant applications. HRM is currently accepting applications for its community grants programs. Non-profits can receive funding of up to $5,000 for a project grant or up to $25,000 for a capital grant. Funding is awarded by category: (1) arts and crafts, (2) diversity and inclusion, (3) environment, (4) emergency assistance and neighbourhood safety, (5) history, (6) housing, (7) leisure, and (8) recreation. Recipients from 2020 in the District 5 area included the Dartmouth Dragon Boats, Dartmouth Non-Profit Housing, Club 24, Dartmouth Curling Club, and Shubenacadie Canal Commission. You can read the report on all the organizations that received funding in 2020 online here and here.
I would encourage all non-profits to take a look at the Community Grants program. It’s money that will be awarded to someone, why not you? You can check out the eligibility criteria in the program booklet online on the municipal grants page here. Community Grant applications are due on March 31.
Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency is launching a recruitment drive. The department is creating a candidate pool for permanent full-time firefighters. Applicants must meet the following requirements:
- Grade 12 education or equivalent
- Nova Scotia Class 5 Driver’s Licence (or equivalent from another province) with a safe and responsible driving record
- Security/background screening which includes a criminal record check, a vulnerable sector check, a child abuse registry check, a driver’s abstract, and an integrity interview.
- Successful candidates must be able to communicate effectively in English
- Must be 18 or older at the time of the application
- Legally entitled to work in Canada
- Aptitude testing, physical abilities testing, and a panel interview.
The fire department is committed to developing a workforce that is reflective of our diverse community and is encouraging applications from African Nova Scotians, racially visible persons, women (applying for non-traditional positions), persons with disabilities, Aboriginal persons and persons of the LGBTQ+ community. Applicants are encouraged to self-identify.
Applications must be submitted through the online application system no later than 11:59 p.m. Atlantic Standard Time (AST) on Sunday, February 21, 2021. For more information on how to apply, visit halifax.ca/firerecruitment
Statistics Canada 2021 Census:
Still with job opportunities, it’s a Census year. Statistics Canada is currently recruiting. Check out Stats Canada’s website to apply.
Twin Lakes Development
Thursday, February 4, 6:00 pm
At our next Harbour East Community Council meeting, Council will consider a proposed development on Prince Albert Road by the Braemar Superstore (where NAPA is now). The proposal is for two 12 storey towers. The staff report doesn’t recommend that Council approve the project. The main staff objection is the size of the development for the location. You can read the staff report here.
A negative staff recommendation would normally be more than enough for me to vote against proceeding to a public hearing, but the situation around this project is somewhat unique. The proposal is actually a redesign of an already approved 12 storey development on the same property. The original design located the tower at the crest of the hill next to Alderney Elementary (basically behind NAPA and accessed by a long driveway)
The redesign of the project was made possible because the developer acquired additional land along Prince Albert Road. The redesign has more units (two towers instead of one), but the project now fronts on Prince Albert Road and is farther down the hill, away from Alderney Elementary. Those feel like good design improvements.
The Public Information Meeting for this project was also unique. Public meetings around proposed development are usually dominated by concerned neighbours. That wasn’t the case with this one. The overwhelming feedback at the Public Meeting from people in the area was positive.
Given that this is a redesign of an already approved project, and the public sentiment expressed so far, I was comfortable moving this forward for a public hearing to fully consider the application.
If you would like to make a submission on this proposal to Council, you can do so by writing email@example.com or myself. Written submissions must be received by 3:00 pm February 3 to be considered by Council. If you would like to speak to Council during the hearing, you can do so by phone. If you wish to speak at the hearing, you must contact the Clerks office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 902-490-4210 by 4:30 pm February 3.
Affordable Housing Commission:
Speaking of opportunities to demand change around affordable housing from our Provincial government, the Affordable Housing Commission is collecting submissions. Share ideas, share your experience, and map areas of need in your community. Visit the website to provide feedback.
Blue Mountain Birch Cove Trail Head
January 29 – March 5
HRM has launched an online survey regarding the creation of a trailhead to access Blue Mountain Birch Cove in Bedford West. The trailhead would provide access to the HRM owned lands around Hobsons Lake. Information gathered in the survey will help form the basis of a report to Regional Council. For more information and to take the survey visit HRM’s webpage here.
To keep you informed about what is going on at Council, I’m writing a regular blog after each meeting. Each of my entries is about what I saw as noteworthy from a District 5 perspective and my views on the issues. We might not always agree, but I think it’s important to provide a record of how I voted and why.
Council Update January 12 plus budget meetings
Budget deliberations have begun with some vigorous discussions about what the tax bill will be for 2021 along with a change in approach for big city building initiatives. Council has also made the 12 and under free transit program permanent. Read about it here.
Black History Month:
February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the history, achievements, and contributions of Black Nova Scotians. The usual sort of in-person gatherings are of course not possible this year due to COVID, but there will still be some opportunities to attend events virtually. Check out the Library’s page for upcoming opportunities.