KJIPUKTUK (HALIFAX)—After nearly 40 days, a 24-hour volunteer-run vigil at Meagher Park in Halifax is coming to an end. Created as a direct response to city-led evictions on August 18, the effort was organized as a temporary stop gap to protect the last crisis shelter left standing on the peninsula and tenters who had been displaced after the Halifax Regional Police’s removal.
The grassroots effort evolved into a network of volunteers pushing for Permanent, Accessible, Dignified and Safer (PADS) housing options.
“For the past five weeks, PADS Community Network has been calling on the Municipality for a moratorium on evictions of crisis shelters and tents to allow time to find solutions, and to shelter unhoused residents from being forced to make decisions under duress,” says Vicky Levack, a PADS Community Network volunteer.
Through a massive volunteer effort, volunteers have filled the role of government, providing wrap-around services including safety, food and water to a growing community of residents. PADS worked collaboratively with residents, including discussing the alternative options available from service providers and the city as they were made available. This included assisting some residents with relocation to facilities including Gray Memorial Arena in Dartmouth, recently put forward as a temporary option by the city.
On Saturday, Erica Fleck, Assistant Chief of Emergency Management at Halifax Regional Municipality, spent several hours at the park, hearing directly from residents about their history, concerns, and plans.
“While some residents have found what they deem to be a safe short-term option at the arena, it is not appropriate for all residents for a range of reasons related to personal health and wellbeing or due to past trauma.” says Amber Zaza with PADS.
“At one point, everyone at the park was willing to move into hotel accommodations,” explained Drew Moore, another volunteer with PADS. “The alternative housing options currently on offer are a significant downgrade from the initial promises, which never materialized.”
Given the unique needs of individuals, and the limited options currently available, many residents continue to feel that People’s Park is the only safe option. They have been working with volunteers to identify areas that may continue to require off-site support, and taking leadership on areas that do not.
The park will complete its transition to resident-run leadership over the weekend, moving to off-site supports.
PADS and the residents of People’s Park received assurances from Fleck on Saturday that no one would be removed from the park without having a temporary accommodation or housing option that best met the unique needs of each individual. Fleck, who is authorized to speak on behalf of the mayor, said that there would be a press conference by Thursday formally announcing that no one would be evicted from tents anywhere in the city. This adds reassurance to the public statements from members of council and the city in recent weeks that all departures will be voluntary.
For members of PADS, the focus now turns to securing a firm moratorium on evictions from the city, and bringing the provincial and federal government to the table. “Mr. Fillmore, Mr. Houston, your invitations are in the mail—it’s time to find a sustainable solution for your constituents.”