Homelessness service providers and advocacy groups in Halifax are calling on the city to reconsider its decision to involve police in the relocation of residents living in a park in the city’s west end.
More than a dozen groups have been named in a letter shared on Twitter Friday night that lists 10 recommendations for an “alternative way forward” to relocate residents of Meagher Park, also known as People’s Park.
Some of the groups mentioned in the statement shared it on their Twitter feeds. Dalhousie Legal Aid also endorsed the statement on Twitter.
United Way Halifax believes in a community where everyone feels like they belong, feel safe and can live the life they choose. Because of this and our values of compassion, cooperation and equality, we strongly believe in finding alternatives to the forceful clean-up of Meagher Park. pic.twitter.com/oHRgn4Z9ex
“These recommendations are largely informed by the people who stay in the park, as well as the collective wisdom of the homeless service sector,” the statement said.
The letter states that service providers will offer their units or spaces to accommodate people staying in the park, given that the space is “culturally safe and appropriate” and where the person wants to go.
“We are asking the city to ask the police to step down and give the service providers and support community surrounding the Meagher Park encampment 7 days to implement this alternative.”
Miia Suokonautio, executive director of YWCA Halifax, said in an interview that the letter was the result of ongoing “key informant” interviews with people sleeping in the park.
“The recommendations are really a reflection of what people themselves have said,” Suokonautio said.
After the municipality issued a statement Thursday evening saying it had formally requested police help to remove people from the camp, Suokonautio said the groups discussed a response based on interviews.
HRM will respond ‘in the next few days’
In an email, Ryan Nearing, spokesman for Halifax Regional Municipality, said the municipality is “aware of yesterday’s letter from various service providers.”
“City staff will review the request and respond in the coming days,” Nearing said. “As always, Halifax Regional Police will respond to public safety issues.”
At a special meeting on Tuesday, councilors defended the modular units and the four designated tent areas that have been established in the borough. But critics say these solutions aren’t working for everyone.
People sheltering in the park were ordered by the municipality to leave by July 17.
In an email, Coun. Shawn Cleary said that although the park is not in his district, he has been contacted frequently by nearby residents about harassment and vandalism by park residents. He also noted that there are concerns about violence and reports of fires in the park.
“It’s not a sustainable situation,” he said.
Cleary noted the efforts HRM has made, including modular units, designated tent sites and rapid rezoning to encourage housing and affordable housing.
Suokonautio said the groups recognize the investments that have been made by all three levels of government.
“But in the absence of those consultations with the people they are intended to serve, you run the risk of making policy or programmatic decisions that miss the mark,” she said.
The letter also calls for a new location for the park’s residents to be determined “in consultation with and with the consent of the affected individuals and their community of support.”
The new site must be equipped with running water, garbage collection, bathrooms and storage for belongings, the letter states.
The groups are also calling for the existing shelters from Meagher Park to be moved to the new site and for funding to set up “a council or advisory of the people staying there”.
Suokonautio said this is something she has seen work in other jurisdictions.
“Someone living in their own home can decide who comes in, who goes out, who stays for dinner,” she said, adding that the council would provide people with more security, dignity and autonomy.
“I feel like we fall into this trap of us and them mentality,” she said. “What we encourage people to consider is that it’s us and then more of us.”
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