In a significant move, Halifax Regional Municipality’s Council has rejected a plan to transform a portion of the Halifax Commons into a specified tent settlement for the homeless individuals. However, the council has instructed city staff to investigate the possibility of leasing private properties and purchasing prefab buildings as possible solutions to homelessness.
“I cannot support the Commons resolution,” voiced Mayor Mike Savage prior to the vote, though also expressing his comprehension of why the suggestion was put forth and the urgent necessity for other solutions.
The proposal to convert a northern section of the commons into a tent camp was part of a report detailing HRM’s strategy to alleviate homelessness. The report recommended setting up twenty tents on the commons, with additional tents to be added post the baseball season, in order to alleviate the strain on existing overcrowded encampments such as Victoria Park and Grande Parade. Nonetheless, the council rejected the proposition in a 12-4 vote.
Councillor Waye Mason expressed concern on how the decision would impact the local residents and businesses, as it leaves staff without clear direction and brings no immediate changes to the situation in Victoria Park. Similarly, Councillor Sam Austin aired his doubts about the lack of feasible alternatives. He highlighted the troubling prospect of waiting until Victoria Park reached a saturation of 70 or 80 tents.
Director of housing and homelessness at HRM, Max Chauvin, noted the alarming surge in homelessness rates in Halifax over the past five years, escalating from 18 to 178. Highlighting that tent areas were reaching their capacity, he emphasized that a further increase in homelessness was projected in the coming year, with Nova Scotia’s rent cap increasing by 5% in January and population expansion continuing.
Chauvin advised that without major policy shifts towards the creation of deeply affordable housing by all tiers of government, the city should be prepared for the prospect of hundreds living outside for the foreseeable future. The sobering report visibly affected District 9 Councillor, Shawn Cleary, who said he had never been so sobered by a staff report during his seven years on the council.
At the debating session, several councillors criticized the province’s lack of action on homelessness, despite Chauvin’s highlighting Nova Scotia’s addition of 64 beds to the shelter system and the opening of 304 new supportive housing units in the past year.
Sam Austin pinpointed the problem as being due to the province’s complete failure of duty and criticized the government’s lack of support. Meanwhile, Councillor Lisa Blackburn expressed fear that the impending rent cap hike could escalate the housing crisis into a humanitarian crisis.
As a result, on Tuesday night, HRM council pass another resolution to purchase pre-made buildings, explore leasing private land, and pen a letter to the province, requesting their immediate plans for deeply affordable housing in HRM.