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Crisis shelters safe as removal deadline passes

“We’re not going to move in and force people out,” mayor Savage says after city threats.

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Halifax’s crisis shelters have survived to see another day, but the length and security of that stay is still anyone’s game. “We’re not going to move in and force people out,” said mayor Mike Savage Tuesday, the day of the city’s deadline for the shelters to be removed. “Our goal is to treat people like human beings.”

Wednesday morning at City Hall, mayor Savage said that he doesn't want to see the forceful removal of crisis shelters “right away.” In a previous statement, the city said its current approach is to leave the shelters until “adequate housing has been identified and offered, or until the health and safety of the occupants or public are at risk.”

On July 6, a one-week deadline of July 13 was given for residents “to remove the shelters—failing which, the sheds, and any personal items contained within the shelters, will be removed by the municipality on or shortly after this date without further notice.” On July 9, the city took down three of these crisis shelters, four days before the threatened deadline. Besides Savage saying HRM isn’t going to “force people out,” at least not “right away,” the city hasn’t stated whether these shelters are at risk now that the deadline has passed.

Hotel rooms are being offered to people as an alternative to living in shelters in public parks. On June 17, downtown Halifax councillor Waye Mason tweeted that he believes “the province has adequate shelter for all the folks living rough right now, and hotel rooms as a very temporary measure for folks heading into an apartment via Housing First.” The city has continued to present this as an option to crisis shelter residents, with limited information on what these hotel accommodations will look like. While five people have chosen to vacate their shelter in favour of the new temporary location in a hotel, there are still nine shelters across the city.

"The issue with these hotels is that not only is it aggregating a large number of people with diverse and unique needs without the proper resources to support them, but these hotels are also heavily surveilled with police visiting regularly,” says Campbell McClintock, spokesperson for Halifax Mutual Aid, the charity organization that started building sheds in January. “There's a lot less autonomy in that way, and a lot of people are actively trying to avoid this."

Early in the pandemic, the city used a similar strategy of moving people into temporary shelters in hotels for the winter. This ended in June 2020, with many residents returning to the streets. McClintock and some of the crisis shelter inhabitants are concerned that this strategy will be met with the same conclusion.

"This hotel solution is just an extension of the shelter system,” McClintock says, “which is not at all a solution to homelessness, but rather a purgatory that keeps people from having actual housing."

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