Media release Poverty

Media advisory: HRM is criminalizing homelessness

August 19, 2021

The removal of “homeless encampments” from municipal parks is a human rights violation 

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – The Dalhousie Legal Aid Service condemns yesterdays’ efforts by  the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) to remove 40 occupants of tents and temporary  shelters from public parks across the city. From media reports, it appears that the HRM’s  actions constitute multiple human rights violations. We take issue both with HRM’s decision  to evict and with the city’s failure to adequately consult with community stakeholders  before taking action on this decision. 

The right to adequate housing is firmly entrenched in Canadian and international human  rights law as well as in the HRM’s own policies. This right includes protection against eviction into homelessness. Despite Mayor Savage’s claims, several people have told reporters that  they received no adequate offers of alternative accommodation prior to their eviction.  

The evictions raise very serious constitutional issues, including the right to non discrimination for persons with disabilities. The Mental Health Commission of Canada  estimates that up to half of the 150,000 to 300,000 Canadians experiencing homelessness  have serious mental health problems. By evicting and ticketing those who have nowhere  else to go, the HRM is criminalizing some of the most vulnerable people in our society.  

Mayor Savage says that all 40 evictions were needed to protect the health and safety of  both occupants and the public. The Mayor is painting with a broad brush. Public safety  issues should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and not by punishing an entire class of  people. To do so is to victim blame those who are suffering most from the very housing  crisis that those same politicians have failed to address.  

Homelessness costs Canada $1.4 billion per year in emergency services, shelters, and criminal  justice expenses. It does not make moral or economic sense for the city to play a game of  whack-a-mole with homeless encampments. It is already well-established that the best way  to both reduce the financial cost of homelessness and to treat mental health conditions is to  take a housing first approach to homelessness.  

We call upon the Mayor and Council to halt the evictions until they sit down with all  stakeholders to draw up a housing transition plan that is lawful, orderly, and humane. We  also call on the new Premier to act by building new affordable housing units and by funding  new housing-first projects.