featured Poverty

“If you can’t lend a hand, stay out of the way” – Haligonians rally in support of the crisis shelters

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – On Sunday about 150 people weathered the afternoon heat to participate in the Rally to Save the Shelters at the vacant old library on Spring Garden Road.

City staff and several councillors have expressed an intention to expel unhoused people from 13 shelters provided by Halifax Mutual Aid (HMA). 

HMA is an anonymous volunteer group in the Halifax Regional Municipality that is “building small shelters in an effort to prevent deaths amidst an ongoing Housing Crisis in Nova Scotia.”

“The city is perhaps embarrassed that this small community group has provided something of a solution, not a perfect one, but … perhaps more so than what they’ve been able to provide lately,” Campbell McClintock told the Nova Scotia Advocate. McClintock, who is not a member of HMA but works with Out of the Cold, serves as the group’s external spokesperson.

“I also believe that they’re doing this because many city government officials, as well as many folks around the city, believe these shelters to be unsightly and undesirable in their neighborhoods,” McClintock added.

Halifax Mutual Aid has been operating since last year, and completed their first shelter build in January. The group has built 13 shelters so far this year, with a waitlist of 21 clients who are currently homeless.

The shelters are about six feet by eight feet. While they don’t have running water, they are insulated to protect its residents from extreme weather conditions, and outfitted with a carbon monoxide detector. 

Despite threats of eviction and removal of the shelters by city officials, the Municipality allowed the shelters to remain throughout the winter months. McClintock believes the return of the tourism season and outcry from the community’s most affluent are causing HRM to take swift action now. 

The following are excerpts from an official statement by Halifax Mutual Aid at the rally:

“We’re here today to demand that the city and the province do not remove the Halifax Mutual Aid crisis shelters until they come up with a clear long term plan to house all homeless residents of this city, permanently.”

“Hotels force folks experiencing homelessness to abide by arbitrary rules and whims of hotel owners and managers. Hotels put homeless people at risk of criminalization at the hands of police, and the temporary nature of this housing plan will likely leave occupants back out on the street sooner rather than later.”

“While the HMA crisis shelters are inadequate in many respects, they give occupants a level of autonomy that can only be matched by permanent housing. These shelters are only here as long as folks experiencing homelessness need them.”

“We can only assume that the city and province are committed to removing these shelters to invisiblize the homeless population for tourist season, and to appease the complaints of the affluent constituents who don’t like to see homeless people in their backyard.”

“We refuse to allow the government to … treat homeless people like they are a problem to be solved, or a can to be kicked further down the road. The public health emergency of homelessness is a product of the policies that have fueled this housing crisis. What is needed is a direct public intervention into the real estate market to slow down and stop this crisis.”

HRM is offering to transition crisis shelter residents to a hotel room, but the Municipality has not been clear about how long clients can stay in hotels or what comes after their stay. Halifax Mutual Aid believes the bandaid fix the government is offering will cause short-term relief but long-term trouble.

“The testimonials for those folks living in those shelters, compared to sleeping directly outside the shelters, provides a bit more safety and autonomy because there’s a door on the structures, you can lock the door,” McClintock said.

While the group recognizes these shelters aren’t a long-term solution for Halifax’s escalating housing crisis, McClintock says the inaction of government has forced community volunteers to step up.

“I think it’s really important that we recognize homelessness as a policy choice, and as a product of colonialism, and we must approach it through a decolonial lens,” McClintock told demonstrators. 

Andrew Goodsell, the first recipient of a crisis shelter from Halifax Mutual Aid, was also featured speaker. 

“I’d like to think that we consider ourselves a modernized country, but how primitive is it that I spent six months here in Halifax during the winter on the streets because there’s no such thing as affordable housing? It doesn’t exist,” Goodsell said.

“It’s cheaper to house the homeless than to shove us in shelters,” he reminded attendees. Goodsell now has a one-bedroom where he pays $535 per month in rent.

McClintock wishes people would realize homelessness is “nobody’s individual fault or responsibility that they end up in a situation of not having a roof over their head.” He encourages government officials to read last month’s report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “Keys to a Secure Housing Future for Nova Scotians.” The report offers nearly 100 recommendations that would refocus housing as a human right in the province. 

“At this point in time in our society, homelessness is something that could really happen to absolutely anybody, especially expedited through the pandemic,” McClintock said at the rally.

“We’ve normalized this crisis, and we’re failing to see the ways in which it’s actually an ongoing public health and safety emergency,” he added.

Leader of the Nova Scotia NDP, Gary Burrill, was among the attendants. The Nova Scotia Advocate was unable to identify any additional politicians in attendance. 

“I would like to encourage all people in the city and all politicians to reflect on what they might do and how they might feel if they didn’t know where they’re going to sleep every night,” McClintock said. “And do everything they can to use their available resources to fight for a more dignified solution.”

See also: Hands off the Halifax crisis shelters

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