Starr Park Assault/Shelter

Mutual Aid Shelter and banner in Starr Park. Photo: local resident

On Saturday, Mutual Aid Halifax dropped a pre-built shelter in Starr Park on Prince Albert Road (by the Marine Railway re-creation and Sawmill River). As usual, Mutual Aid did so without permission from HRM. The problem is Mutual Aid’s shelters aren’t safe. They have no supporting services, don’t meet the basics of the building code, and are placed with no regard for anyone else. The shelter at Starr Park wasn’t just occupied by one person, there were three people staying in that tiny space. Three people in a space with no heat, power, water, or a toilet, and with no support from any service providers.

Yesterday morning, unfortunately, the dangerous situation that Mutual Aid actively created blew up. A neighbour knocked on the door of the Starr Park shelter and the exchange ended very badly. The neighbour, a senior, was attacked by a shelter occupant and had to be taken to hospital with significant injuries, including broken bones. The shelter occupant who attacked him is facing serious criminal charges. Here is the police news release.

To say this is unacceptable is an understatement. This wouldn’t have happened had Mutual Aid not dropped that shelter in Starr Park on Saturday. What Mutual Aid is doing is dangerous and this attack on top of a previous fire in a Mutual Aid shelter very much underlines why. To install shelters anywhere Mutual Aid likes with no discussion with anyone else and with no supporting services is deeply problematic. There is a need for crisis shelters, but not in the dangerous way that Mutual Aid is doing it.

The alternative path is demonstrated by the Catholic Church. Over the last several months HRM and the Catholic Church have worked together to approve safe crisis shelters for installation on church property. The church shelters meet the building code, have heat and electricity, and have access to water/toilet on site or through nearby church buildings. Occupants are supported by church congregations or service providers and results have been quite successful, with almost no complaints or issues from any of the church sites. Over 20 have been installed and other faith organizations have started becoming involved too, including Christ Church in Downtown Dartmouth.

Safe crisis shelters with supporting services on Christ Church’s property. Photo: Christ Church newsletter

Mutual Aid could work with HRM and others in the same fashion, but they continue to seek confrontation. That’s because their efforts are as much a political project as they are a housing project, which is where Starr Park comes in.

In a presentation to Council last week, the PADS group asked HRM to relax camping restrictions in the Parks Bylaw. PADs indicated during discussion that the people who are homeless would naturally not choose a prominent, exposed or busy spot to shelter as they generally want to be left alone. That isn’t, however, what happened at Starr Park. Starr Park is an active park space next to a very well-used walkway. I have seen people with dogs, kids playing, and people sunbathing on the very spot where Mutual Aid dropped the shelter on Saturday. In choosing this prominent spot, Mutual Aid was trying to make a statement and the result of that statement is broken bones for an area resident and criminal charges for a shelter occupant who probably hasn’t had a very easy life.

So what do we do? There are big societal issues at play here, but Mutual Aid’s approach isn’t helping. HRM won’t evict people from public spaces if they have no place to go, which has put us in a bind in responding to these shelters. It’s next to impossible to stop Mutual Aid from placing shelters in our parks and immediately occupying them. HRM has actively created new space through the modular project (Dartmouth side complete, Halifax side almost there) and the rapid housing initiative, but the need is greater than the available space and there will always be some folks who just won’t be a good fit for the available options or would prefer not to accept help. So we’re going to have to think about where sheltering on public land will be permitted and under what circumstances. Not all parks are created equal, with some better able to support shelters than others. Starr Park isn’t a good fit.

I’m increasingly of the view that we have no real choice, but to designate some spaces for sheltering here in HRM. HRM staff will be coming to Council with a report, hopefully at our next Council meeting on May 3, that will consider all of these issues. What absolutely can’t continue is allowing a third party anonymous group to create encampment sites and then walk away. Yesterday’s violence underscores that and all that is wrong with Mutual Aid’s reckless approach.


  1. Mutual Aid Halifax is a criminal organization advocating violence to support their agenda.
    We should declare war on this organization before our city turns into an encampment for those unwilling to participate in our society.

    • They are violent, we must declare war? Chill out fred. You sound violent.

      Sam is proposing solutions. Mutual aid has partially succeeded in their desire to pressure the city into acting.

      I’m not trying to apologize for the messed up violent scene that unfolded in dartmouth but just want to point out that “declaring war” is not a response that works. HRP tried that in August and pepper sprayed a bunch or Peaceful protesters.

      • They are actively promoting violent situations so, yes, they are a violent group. The members should be arrested and be charged with being a part of that assualt.

      • Yeah Dan, sounds like you are apart of the problem. They are just as responsible as the attacker. Also they haven’t pushed any change in the city whatsoever.

        Also the police did a great job handling the rioters that day. They were aggressive and completely out of line. The police did their job to dispurse the crowed which was ultimately successful.

        • I guess you are out here doing God’s work Jake, so thanks for that.

          If the actions observed in halifax in august are what you call a success I would really hate to see what you would refer to as a failure, and your heart/mind is hardened beyond change.

          The dehumanization we are witnessing in Halifax troubling.

      • @Sam Austin this comment is calling for “war” against the group you blasted in your article; do you think their reaction is appropriate? If yes, could you define what “war” means to you? If no, why are you ignoring it instead of replying like you have with others you disagreed with?

    • How is supplying a shelter for someone violent? They can’t be held responsible by people who are already discriminated against by people like you and Sam Austin. The city hasn’t done enough to address the housing crisis in Halifax. You should be directing your anger at city council members. Not some poor folks who’ve been dealt a shitty hand.

  2. How is this mutual aids fault?

    Are you seriously arguing the assault wouldn’t have happened without the shelter? That the shelter caused the assault? That really takes agency away from the guy who committed the assault.

    Clearly the guy is nuts. Maybe if HRM had housed him, he wouldn’t be in the park to begin with.

    Is it fair to blame HRM too? Because you’re arguably more at fault here.

    • It’s very fair to blame government, HRM included. We’re very far from without fault. These are deep social issues. The point remains though that allowing an annonymous group to put shelters wherever they want with no planning or supportive services doesn’t make things better and risks causing further harm, such as occurred yesterday.

      • In most cases it provided a roof and shelter.

        I’m sure the other than housed people don’t want to be three to a shelter. It’s just better than the ground. Since the city keeps stealing their tents.

        So far the only person hurt by a shelter had been the 10 year old maced by police. Really that’s mutual aids fault too then.

        Last I checked Halifax mutual aid was trying to work with the city. The city won’t work with them on acceptable terms.

      • Sam, the assault was AGAINST a person living in the crisis shelter, and PERPETRATED by a housed person who lives nearby. Read the police report carefully: the younger person was in the crisis shelter minding his own business, and the older person left his nearby house, came down to the younger man’s shelter, and started a fight.

        HMA’s only involvement here is that they provided emergency housing for a person who was the VICTIM of an assault. The cops want to portray the VICTIM as the PERPETRATOR because he fought back to defend his home.

          • Not true! If someone pounds on my front front door wielding a chainsaw, I am absolutely allowed defend myself from the assault.

            Here’s a very important question: Why was the old guy pounding one someone’s front door with a power tool at 7am? Do you think he was in a good mood, or–just maybe–angry?

  3. As horrible as the incident is, that shelter and the political movement which put it there are a consequence of the city and province’s own inaction on this issue. It’s not like HMA is pulling mentally unstable people out of existing government-supported housing or care programs! Austin is walking on the verge of saying “it’s fine for there to be an unaddressed homelessness crisis as long as they’re not disruptive or existing where we can see them,” which to me is fully in keeping with the dereliction of duty the city and province have shown so far. It demonstrates the callousness of our government at least, so thanks for that.

  4. The people living in the shelter are also area residents. If someone came to knock on your door and yell at you and you punched them, you would not blame the property developer who built the house. Blame the NIMBY “senior” who escalated the confrontation and did so with pre-meditation. He is who is at fault, not HMA.

    • Way to attack the victim, the state of things is absurd.

      The occupant should not have resorted to violence, the senior should also have minded their own business.

      JFC i hate this city

      • The Catholic church is a good example? The same church that the city threatened with $600 per day per shelter fines? The same church that is having their permit renewals dangled over their heads? Of the systemic failures in government leading to and causing the problem, the city is not a passive observer, they are an active participant. Things will not change if you and your peers don’t change the way we treat the unhoused. There are roughly 500 unhoused people in the HRM. HRMs housing plan will help just over 50 of them. What’s your plan for the city help the other 450 people?

        • Hey Matt. Do you think HRM shouldn’t have insisted the building code apply to the church shelters? That’s our job! The system worked well there in that HRM and Church were able to work out a solution. Is it a bad thing that HRM insisted on the building code being followed and the result is shelters with heat and power and clad in metal? Not all 500 are sleeping rough. People who are outside have to be the first priority. We’ve created new space, and more is coming. There will probably be people who, even if there is room, for reasons of circumstance or just not wanting the help will remain outside. So we’re going to have to think about how that fits into our public spaces. I think we’re going to have to designate some places where sheltering is permitted. The alternative of letting Mutual Aid choose isn’t working.

    • Exactly! The older person got the worst of the fight maybe, but HE STARTED IT. He left his nice warm house, came storming down to someone else’s shelter, and started a fight. Sam, you might want to reflect on why you’re not able to see what really happened here.

  5. Well said same. The city needs to grow a set and tear these things down since they’re illegal. Plain and simple. You have my vote again my friend now lets clean up the park before it turns into an eye sore like halifax

    • The handling of telling the church these requirements was bad, and requiring the church to spend more money per unit means they are helping fewer people. So it’s not an out and out positive for me, no. I miss the request for a staff report on designating public spaces as shelter permitted? Or has that not happened yet? And if not what has prevented you from doing so?

      • Well we’ll have to agree to disagree then. Spending a few more dollars to provide a much better and safe space is worth it in my opinion. Instead of wasting dollars on fighting with HRM, MA could put their fundraising efforts there.

        I don’t know exactly what the report coming forward on Tuesday next week will recommend, but it will talk about designating some public spaces.

  6. The shack is an illegal structure in a public park. The park is heavily used by Dartmouth residents for walking, sitting, picnicking, just enjoying the outside in our community. It doesn’t matter who Mutual Aid is, or what they are doing, the shack needs to go.

    • I walk through that park almost every day. It is a relatively small piece of land and people primarily use it for walking dogs or as a shortcut. I rarely see people sitting. I have never seen anyone “picknicking”. None of those peoples use or enjoyment is affected in any way by the shelter. It is vastly preferable to having people sleeping under the bushes by Sullivans Pond. I have never had any issues with the unhoused people in the area. Get out, meet your neighbours. You might be surprised what you might learn from them.

  7. I agree. They are illegal and all the Mutual Aid shelters should be torn down. They create an unsafe environment for the local residents. Legal shelters built by churches and HRM should be the only ones used to house the homeless.

  8. This is bad form, Sam. Didn’t the hospitalized person threaten the shelter occupant and then take a power tool and cut into the shelter? Didn’t HRM first threaten the Catholic Church with fines if they didn’t submit to the city? Hasn’t HMA consistently stated they will work with the city so long as it isn’t behind closed doors?

    • No.

      (1) I don’t know what might have preceded the attack. I had three people who witnessed it write me and I spoke with police. HMA is alleging there was some additional context, but I can’t verify that or if it was the same guy who did it (I don’t think they can either, but are suggesting it was). Even if so, no one gets to beat someone and that just further underlines the point that unplanned, unsupported shelters aren’t a solution.

      (2) HRM insisted that the building code be followed and there was a lot of discussion with the Church. The result of HRM’s insistence is shelters that are much safer, have heat, and power. A better shelter isn’t a bad thing and is part of what separates the Church’s efforts from HMA (the other being the church sites have other supports).

      (3) Pretending that there can be some kind of reasonable discussion to sort things out over twitter is disingenuous. From the second HMA launched they had decided that HRM was their enemy and proceeded in that fashion at every step of the way, even when overtures were made. If you’re looking for enemies, you will always find them, and that’s how HMA operates.

      • (1) I saw the hole in the shelter, Sam. Your refusal to investigate it before loudly proclaiming one side as fact shows your interests here.

        (2) No one’s saying a better shelter is a bad thing. But maybe, until HRM and Prov. supply proper housing, HRM should be listening to unhoused people. Like HMA does.

        (3) They didn’t say it should be done over Twitter, so your suggestion that’s what they meant is what’s disingenuous. They said they want things public. They’re not the same, and you know that.

        As far as who’s “looking for enemies” here, I remember back when the first two shelters went up. You had a nice article in the news about how great the first shelter was. But the minute you got a call about a second shelter, you went down, assumed there was no occupant, and then you and other councilors made wild claims online and in the news. So who’s being the enemy here?

        • *applause*

          Sam, HMA stepped up when you utterly failed. Criticizing people who are volunteering their own time and resources to help others is disgusting coming from someone who actually has the power and funds to help properly.

          If HMA’s solutions aren’t good enough for HRM, then HRM needs to DO BETTER. I challenge you to show us the right way to run and operate shelters by DOING IT. “Discussing” and “debating” endlessly doesn’t house anyone sleeping outside tonight.

  9. Sam, HMA has only one goal that I can tell, and that is making sure people have somewhere to sleep at night with a door that locks and a roof over their head. And they have delivered on that, which is more than we can say for you. They have never once tried to make an enemy if the city, despite your efforts to vilify them. You keep repeating the same talking points, but at the end of the day, you aren’t proposing any solutions for where unhoused people will sleep TONIGHT. Please, put down the script from the CAO, and spend some time cultivating compassion for people who have literally nothing. This goes for everyone else in the comments too. I get that “it’s an eyesore” or “property values” are of concern to you, but please try to tap into your human empathy and realize that people without homes are just that, PEOPLE. They need somewhere safe to lay down their head, and they need it NOW. Not tomorrow, not six months from now. TODAY.

    • These problems didn’t develop overnight and half baked attempts to solve them overnight lead to incidents like this one.
      HMA may have a noble goal, but that does not place their every action beyond question.
      HMA chose to put that shelter in an extremely prominent spot to provoke a reaction.
      Unfortunately it wasn’t the reaction they were hoping for.
      Well, that’s what happens when you lack the empathy for people other than the individual’s whose cause you champion and fail to understand that this involves many people with various interests.
      Yeah, everyone wants results right NOW, but if you don’t take the time to think through how to solve complex issues it’s going to blow up in your face.

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