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.
“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