Media release Poverty

Media advisory: Ten community organizations and members call for halt to removal of temporary shelters

JULY 13, 2021

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – A group of ten community organizations and members, including the  Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, the Nova Scotia Action  Coalition for Community Well-Being, the Coverdale Courtwork Society, the Elizabeth Fry Society  of Mainland Nova Scotia, the Canadian Federation of Students – Nova Scotia, Professor Jeff  Karabanow, ACORN – Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Health Coalition, and Adsum for Women and  Children are calling on the Halifax Regional Municipality to abandon its plan to remove temporary  shelters from public property today, on July 13, 2021. The city’s eviction actions are legally suspect and will take away options that support peoples’ own efforts to maintain their health and  security.  

The city has claimed that the shelters are a threat to public safety. This claim is a flimsy deflection.  How on earth would it enhance public safety during a pandemic to force housing insecure  persons to sleep rough or in a tent? Surely forcible eviction is an even greater risk to public safety.  Whatever its public justifications, what is happening is that the city is reacting to those who view  the shelters as eye sores and their residents as bad for business and property values. 

The city is attempting to give legal cover to its actions by offering to provide shelter residents with  alternative accommodations, including short-term stays in hotel/motel rooms. Hotels are not  homes. The hotel plan is a makeshift solution that is inadequate to the distinct and complex needs  of people experiencing housing insecurity.  

Sarah White, Lawyer at the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, says that “Halifax’s plan to evict shelter  residents may amount to violations of both the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms  as well as of Canada’s international human rights obligations. The Dalhousie Legal Aid Service is  looking to connect with people who are directly affected by these evictions to gather evidence  about the adequacy of the alternative accommodations on offer.” 

Since the onset of the pandemic, Nova Scotia has been using hotel/motel stays as a stop-gap measure to manage the housing crisis. Between 2018 and 2020, the number of Provincially funded  emergency hotel stays rose from 54 to 307, while the price tag for this program ballooned from  $31,000 to $1.7 million. The city’s approach to temporary shelters is part and parcel of a larger effort  to avoid a reckoning with the affordable housing crisis by sweeping homelessness under the rug. 

“The hotel stay program is a smokescreen”, says Mark Culligan, Community Legal Worker with  Dalhousie Legal Aid Service. “Hotel/motel guests are extremely vulnerable as they are specifically exempted from the legislated protections available to tenants that grant security of tenure. We have already seen past instances where hotel operators have evicted families reliant on income  assistance as soon as they can be replaced with higher-paying guests. We fear that hundreds will  be evicted from hotels, motels, and AirBnBs as tourism returns to Nova Scotia.”

Community organizations are calling on the City of Halifax to keep the temporary shelters in place  and to give residents a choice as to whether they wish to relocate to a hotel. We object to  approaches to housing and homelessness that are based on putting human beings out of sight  and out of mind. What is truly needed from the city is a long-term collaboration with other levels  of government to build social, non-profit, and supportive housing. 

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Quotes: 

“The hotel stay program is a smokescreen. Hotel/motel guests are extremely vulnerable as they  are specifically exempted from the legislated protections available to tenants that grant security  of tenure. We have already seen past instances where hotel operators have evicted families  reliant on income assistance as soon as they can be replaced with higher-paying guests. We fear  that hundreds will be evicted from hotels, motels, and AirBnBs as tourism returns to Nova  Scotia.” 

-Mark Culligan, Community Legal Worker, Dalhousie Legal Aid Service 

“Homelessness and poverty are major causes of illness and injury and dealing with the  healthcare crisis in Nova Scotia means dealing with the crisis of poverty, unaffordable housing  and homelessness in the province. Evicting people from their homes – whether they’re  apartments, houses or crisis shelters – is not a solution.” 

Chris Parsons, Provincial Coordinator, Nova Scotia Health Coalition 

“Housing is a human right, but increasingly high housing costs and a persistently low minimum  wage means that necessities like housing are becoming unaffordable for many Nova Scotians. We  have the solutions to address the housing crisis in Nova Scotia, but need the political will to  ensure affordable housing for all. Until the City has implemented those solutions, temporary  shelters offer people important housing options. Students join in calling on the HRM to stop the  planned evictions of the temporary emergency shelters and to work instead on long-term  solutions for a housing secure future for all Nova Scotians.” 

Kris Reppas, Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students – Nova Scotia 

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