Two areas in Halifax and two areas in Dartmouth have been approved for camping for people experiencing homelessness.
On Tuesday, Halifax Regional Council voted unanimously to allow camping in Halifax’s Lower Flinn Park, a green space on Barrington Street between Cornwallis and North Street, a green space on Geary Street in Dartmouth and Green Road Park in Dartmouth.
“We’re going to make a difference. It is much work. And we must always think of those who need our help, who have no place to sleep. That’s what this is about,” Mayor Mike Savage said ahead of the vote.
According to a staff report, the sites would allow more than 30 people to “sleep rough in the community.” That’s more than the number of people currently sleeping in parks, the report said.
Another 616 people are on a list for subsidized housing.
The areas were selected because they met certain criteria, including a distance of at least 50 meters from schools, day care centers, playgrounds or cemeteries. They are also relatively close to public washrooms and public transportation.
People camping at these sites are expected to obey municipal regulations such as noise ordinances and a fire ban. Municipal compliance officers are being asked to enforce this, not Halifax Regional Police.
“The Halifax Regional Police (HRP) should not be the primary response to many homelessness-related issues. The HRP should focus on crime prevention and investigation,” the report said.
Councilors raised many concerns about the plan, including confusion over the parks’ locations, police involvement and the total number of people who would camp.
“Like Lower Flinn Park,” Coun said. Shawn Clear. “I mention this because there is Flinn Park and Lower Flinn Park and as you can understand I’ve spent the last two days answering about 30 emails from people who live near Flinn Park and said : ‘Why do you put people first? our child’s toboggan hill?’ “
Cleary wanted to know how campers would know not to camp in the wrong area.
Max Chauvin, special projects manager for Halifax Park and Recreation, said he expected confusion. He said they will put up signs making it clear where people are allowed and not allowed to camp.
The two Dartmouth sites are in Coun. Ward by Sam Austin. While acknowledging the use of these sites makes sense, he said there are some residents in his area who don’t want a permanent camp.
“Geary Street makes sense. It’s close to services, it’s central, there was nothing else going on in this space before,” Austin said. “As much as some people don’t want it around – it’s not free from problems – there are some legitimate concerns.”
“We had a fire there just over the weekend. There are legitimate concerns that people have, especially women, that they no longer feel safe there.”
Savage acknowledged that campgrounds are not a “perfect” solution.
“It’s probably going to be better where we’re going in the short-term,” Savage said.