Statement Shelter and Tent Removal

Temporary Shelter in Downtown Dartmouth. Photo: Robert Short, CBC

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 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.


  1. I live on Shore Rd and I am very familiar with homeless residence living in the woods at the end of my street. I believe the city could do a lot more for these people. It may be the responsibility of the province to do more for these people but the province has failed to do anything significant to help. It is up to the city to do more. The city has the resources and the facilities to do more, such as the former St Pats Alexandra School with a gym showers washrooms and a field to put tents. What the city needs is leadership and the will to do more including spending spending money. The path chosen by Mayor Savage is to blame the province hope the problem will go away. Don’t follow his lead. Stand up and look for solutions. Be a leader not a follower.

  2. “I encourage anyone who was there who feels the police acted inappropriately to make a formal complaint by e-mailing or by calling 902 490-4127.”

    Sam, there’s a problem. I feel the police acted inappropriately and I would like to file a complaint; unfortunately, I wasn’t directly affected by police conduct. I emailed Professional Standards asking if I could make a complaint in these circumstances; their reply, in part, was “You cannot be a third party to file a public complaint.”

    • You mean the police that had objects thrown at them for carrying out a lawful order? The police that were attacked by cowards that used children as human shields?
      These poeple living in tents and sheds were legally notified that they were trespassing and were being ‘evicted’. They were given the opportunity to leave peacefully and take up residence in hotels until a more permanent solution could be found. A few of the smarter ones took this option. Think about this reasonably. If you were dealt this unfortunate hand and were living in the woods in a tent where you have no access to cooking, power, plumbing and can’t clean up to go to interviews, and someone came along and say, ‘hey Patrick, sorry about your luck. We do need you to vacate this place so we are going to put you up in a hotel.’
      Would you not be tripping over yourself to get your belongings gathered so you could get to a place with a soft warm bed and running hot water. To have a ‘fixed address’ so you can receive your assistance check and have it on your resume?
      And these ‘protesters’ that were down there attacking police and then using their own kids as shields when they suddenly snapped into reality and realized that actions have consequences… why don’t you poll them to see how many homeless they have brought into their homes or allowed to build shacks in their back yards… it’s easy to be righteous when you think all you will get from it is a few tic tok or facebook likes…

    • Yes, Patrick raises an important point. I am unhappy with the police conduct displayed but as I was not personally affected I cannot file a complaint with them, which is why I registered my concerns with my elected officials. Last summer I also wrote to my elected officials about my concerns with our police force. The displays at the protest show that fell on deaf ears. Many, many videos show the police used excessive force, did not try to de-escalate the situation, provoked further outrage with shoving, manhandling, and unwarranted use of irritants. Name tags were removed, thin blue line badges were worn. People of colour were disproportionately arrested. Why was this outcome so different than the outcome of a recent protest at the NS-NB border? Why does the chief of police refuse to acknowledge that anything could be done differently, or that behaviour needs to be addressed? The police have shown themselves to be biased, aggressive, and untrustworthy. I would not call them if I were in need. It’s up to our mayor and councillors to acknowledge that many people feel this way and do something about it.

  3. The pertinent question is a simple one: do we support the rule of law in this country? The answer doesn’t involve shades of grey. Those who do not support the law are on the side of anarchy.

    Elected public officials have an obligation to demonstrate leadership, responsibility and courage. There is no option to navigate both sides of this or any other issue. Laying problems at the doorstep of other levels of government isn’t a solution. Doing so encourages those who have no time for the rule of law.

    If municipal politicians give chronic layabouts, professional agitators, drug dealers, thugs, petty criminals, anarchists, and fifth columnists (ALL exist in our city) an opening, our police will not only feel compelled to remove name tags but also to wear masks to ensure their own safety and the safety of their families. Worse, should political leadership be unable to decide whose side they’re on, the police will quite rightly be disinclined to put themselves at risk.

    Police are not perfect. They are, after all, only human. However, they truly are the thin blue line. The veneer of civility in our society is very easily torn away. Once the authority of law enforcement is compromised, as it has been in US cities such as Seattle, Portland, Saint Louis, Minneapolis, New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia — all run for years by progressive politicians — sustainment of safe vibrant communities becomes problematic. Ironically, those who suffer most are the disadvantaged and economically disenfranchised.

    Sam, why on earth were you shocked? HRM council has been appeasing trouble-makers for too long. Demonstrate leadership. Stand against lawlessness in all its forms.

    • Thank you for your comment. Sam’s just being a politician. Sitting on a fence as usual afraid to offend. Police have no support but lots of keyboard critics.

      • “No support” just a 100 million dollar budget so they can beat up homeless people and pepper spray children.

        Police can cry me a river while they’re each making 6 figures on the public dime, after a high school education and 2 years of clown college.

  4. Sam, you are failing here. Not the province. Not HMA. YOU are. The $7000 empathy consultant didn’t buy much. And as many of the loud month complainers who feel “unsafe” because folks are sheltered- other feels unsafe because the housing crisis is a CRISIS and people are destroying shelters without offering real supports. It’s just not true that everyone is being offered alternative accommodation and it sickens me how easily you can repeat and spread that lie. Do better.

  5. Sam, I appreciate your thoughtful comments on this troubling event. Homelessness is a complex problem and the solutions need to involve all levels of government. Tents and shelters that lack basic necessities like water, plumbing and heat do not provide a dignified life for people and cannot be a long term solution. We can do better. I understand that David Hendsbee has suggested that the vacant Future Inn be turned into an emergency shelter. Ideas like this need to be explored urgently. I will be looking for ways that I can get involved in creating support and solutions and would welcome any suggestions you can provide.

  6. Sam, thank you for the more informative description of what happened then what we were getting from the news. What a lot of people do not realise is that people are living this way by choice. No matter what or who offers the help and assistance they are not interested. Some are dangerous most are probably harmless except to themselves. These ‘shelters’ are not the solutions. Safe accessible spaces that come with conditions for services. That is Community Services, employment assistance, health care, etc have been the answer in other countries. Those that want to be helped get the help they need, but we can not help everyone. It has worked in many places around the world. de-marginalise these people.
    Mutual Aid people are not an organisation, they are not peaceful protesters, and appear to be more interested in breaking the laws then actual helping anyone. Definitely not the Salvation Army who have helped more people then anyone.
    I am rarely afraid of homeless people, as I said they are mostly a danger to themselves. However these ‘shelters’ put up and encampments are housing dangerous elements and activities, not just to those who use them but to others in the vicinity.
    Many, many difficult issues to fix here.

  7. It is disappointing that you could not see a violent confrontation coming. A very emotional social issue that had public support, mixed with a segment of society that distrusts the police and distrusts governmental agents as a whole, is bound to be volatile. That was why there were multiple police officers ( I saw 10 at Horsehoe) stationed at every site attacked. Everyone else apparently saw this coming. I suggest your shock is nothing but an attempt to hide from your responsibilities– Violence was highly predictable and you chose to do nothing that eliminated or reduced that threat. The old “I see no Evil” approach.

    You talk about responsibilities and what will happen someday. Given we all know those things are not in place yet, and will not be for awhile, you fail to explain why NOW. If these solutions were going to happen, and everything was going to be addressed, as you suggest, would these sites not automatically disappeared in a few months time? No there was something else here, something that drove the city to act in the harshest manner at its disposal, and act NOW.

    The city had options. If safety was an issue, increase police patrols. If sanitary issues were present open the old library, open the Kyber Bldg, bring portable toilets. No the city had to act in the harshest manner at its disposal, because these were the weakest in our society.

    The police. They have a very difficult job- largely, in situations like this because politicians have failed society, and that includes you. When you fail, you call on the police to deal with the situation/ mess you created. You had the opportunity over time and you had the opportunity this week, to improve things but you chose the police. If there was any risk of violence, of people being hurt, you had the responsibility to step up and and disagree. You now claim you did not see it coming. Really.

    You mention name tags, and blue lines. They are symptoms of a bigger problem. These people do not trust the police- but yet you put the police in a non win position that could have been avoided, if you had of acted better. I was not there but I saw what I saw.I saw people being maced while standing on the sidewalk 100ft from where the obstruction was taking place. I saw a police force that, at times, was disorganized, looking for leadership, and seamed ill prepared for might happen. Waiting sometimes does wonders, no this had to be done fast. The police chief has done nothing to calm the situation in any of his statements. The problem is much bigger than name tags and blue lines, you have a police force that needs leadership and that needs to be investigated.

    I suggest your , the city’s , motive that required quick, harsh actions was one of IMAGE. I suspect businesses on Spring Garden and Hollis St area had complained and you, the Mayor, and your fellow councilors sold out your values. There is no other logical explanation as to why now, why these 2 downtown sites, while other sites were bypassed. It was all about $$$

    The city, the Mayor, The councillors have acted shamefully irresponsibly. Unfortunately the losers are those most vulnerable in our city, the police force members, and taxpayers as a whole. Are you satisfied.

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