I’m writing today about the removal of homeless shelters and tents in Halifax and the confrontation that ensued between police and Mutual Aid protesters. A violent confrontation is not something I saw coming and it’s a shock. That some bystanders, including a 10 year old kid, got caught up in it is even worse. I have heard from many residents in District 5 and I share the dismay that this is where things ended up.
When the shelters first appeared, HRM took an approach of leaving them in place because we didn’t want to evict people who didn’t have other options and I fully support that approach. A shed or tent though is very far from ideal. They have no electricity, running water, a toilet, kitchen, they’re not built to any building code, and one has already burned. They’re better than nothing at all, but they’re also not a replacement for safe indoor space with services to support the complex needs that many street involved people have (mental health, trauma, addictions).
Encampments also aren’t issue free places and there have been growing problems at all of the larger sites. The Geary Street location is the one I know best since it’s in District 5 and I have heard from many who have expressed that they no longer feel safe walking by this location because of what they’ve observed and experienced as it has grown in size. Mutual Aid has some good intentions, but having an anonymous third party create permanent encampments that have little supporting services, and with no input or planning from anyone else, has been problematic. HRM has tried to engage with Mutual Aid, but they’re an anonymous group that will only communicate on twitter.
For the last several months, the municipality has been focused on working with the Province to secure space to house people. What has changed recently is the Province has committed to house anyone who is living rough on HRM properties (shelters and tents). The Province is expecting to be able to bridge people who accept the offer of help into permanent supportive housing in the fall.
Given the Province’s commitment, HRM has been notifying people for the last several weeks that the encampment sites won’t be permitted to continue. Some encampment residents have accepted offers of housing and left, including five before this week and 10 more on Wednesday, but not everyone has. While HRM and the Province have tried to make sure that everyone has had an offer, I’m concerned that some of the reports indicate that a few of the evicted tent residents this week may not have received one.
It is distressing that the situation on Wednesday devolved into a sometimes violent confrontation between police and Mutual Aid protesters. Police were facing some challenging conditions with a hostile crowd that pushed back, and at times threw projectiles. Several officers were injured, including one who suffered a broken nose. Mutual Aid didn’t call for a protest, they called for a confrontation to stop the shelter removals, and that is what occurred. That said, the police always have the higher duty to defuse and de-escalate. I’m concerned about reports that police name tags weren’t displayed, and that thin blue line pins were worn. The police will undertake an operational review into what happened and that is needed given the use of force that has occurred. I encourage anyone who was there who feels the police acted inappropriately to make a formal complaint by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 902 490-4127.
Ultimately, the real solution to all of this is better social programs and more supportive housing. I have hope that with HRM’s support of the rapid housing initiative and recent Provincial commitments that spaces will soon increase significantly. Beyond that, the housing issue isn’t going away and still needs lots of work and attention by all levels of government.