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Homelessness and red tape in Halifax

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Halifax Mutual Aid doesn’t like permits, red tape, rules and regulations. And when it comes to people sleeping outside in freezing temperatures, who does? 

The City of Halifax, is who, and several of its veteran councillors. 

Halifax Mutual Aid is a group of anonymous volunteers who started building small wooden box-like shelters, well-built, insulated, with a door that can be locked and other thoughtful features. We wrote about the initiative in early December, and also published the group’s manifesto at that time.

The first shelter was placed on the Dartmouth Commons. The CBC’s Elizabeth Chiu came down and interviewed Paul, a man who used to sleep outside and who felt that his living conditions had greatly improved thanks to the group’s efforts.

To its credit the city was fine with it, Chiu reported.

But when the group set up a second shelter in the same spot, that was no longer the case. “We have received news that Jacques Dubé, Chief Administrative Officer for the HRM will be ordering the removal of the crisis shelters tomorrow,” the group tweeted last night. 

Councillor Sam Austin, in whose district the shelters are located, tweeted confirmations and explanations.

The problem is  that this shelter is empty, Austin tweeted.

As it turned out, a homeless resident was waiting in the wings, moved in and, facing lots of criticism on social media, the city beat a hasty retreat. The second shelter stays, the city announced.

However, it’s not clear whether the new rule remains. Are empty shelters allowed now, and if so, for how long?

Thing is, people need a bit of time before they are ready to move to a new location. The rule is heavy handed. It serves no purpose, except perhaps to send a message that the city is still in charge here.

After all, Halifax council built an entire convention centre that will be mostly empty for well beyond the duration of the pandemic, if not forever. They’re not tearing that one down though.

The Halifax Examiner’s Zane Woodford tried to find out whether the rule still applies, but to no avail. All he got was one of those meaningless responses that communication people are so fond of.

“The temporary shelters that were installed in Dartmouth cannot remain onsite indefinitely and will need to be removed. Staff are working with partners to identify adequate housing options for these residents.  Under municipal legislation, there is no ability to permit installation of housing structures, including temporary shelters, on parks, streets and other municipal  infrastructure,” wrote spokesperson Maggie-Jane Spray.

Halifax Mutual Aid can always use financial and material support. You can reach them at HalifaxMutualAid@riseup.net.

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