Halifax regional council allotted $500,000 Tuesday for an emergency plan to address temporary housing for the homeless in the city.
Mayor Mike Savage asked that procedural rules surrounding the involvement of the finance standing committee and a staff report be waived to “direct the CAO to implement a range of emergency supportive housing and emergency shelter accommodations for those who are unhoused in collaboration with and based on feedback from community social service providers and the Province of Nova Scotia to address immediate and emergent needs.”
The emergency measures would include “the fit-up of spaces for temporary accommodation, renting of hotel (rooms) and other spaces,” the mayor said in his emergency motion before the 16-member council.
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Savage asked council to authorize chief administrative officer Jacques Dube “to spend up to $500,000 from fiscal services in respect to addressing these needs and report (regularly) on the use of said funds.”
The final part of Savage’s motion directed Dube “to work with the (provincial) Department of Community Services and community service providers on a needs analysis to determine how many people are unhoused, how many of them are currently tenting or occupying other forms of shelter in the parks and other public lands,” and how many can be accommodated in a safer manner.
Council voted unanimously to waive the procedural rules and followed with a unanimous vote to pass the mayor’s emergency motion.
The motion comes in the wake of a Halifax Regional Police response two weeks ago to remove temporary shelters from three HRM properties.
The police action turned violent when protesters opposed the removals of temporary shelters at the old public library property on Spring Garden Road.
The result was 24 arrests and charges of obstruction, assaulting police and resisting arrest. All those arrested were released the same day but the optics of video showing police combatting protesters who supported unhoused people left a black mark on the municipality.
After introducing the motion, Savage, who was out of town with family during the online council meeting, told elected municipal councillors that he had written a few weeks ago to each of the parties in the provincial election about several issues, the first of which was affordable housing.
“The need for affordable housing continues to grow,” Savage said of his message to the provincial political parties. “As the largest urban centre in Nova Scotia, we face a uniquely urgent need that requires responsive policy options, tools and legislative amendments to address the affordable housing crisis.”
Savage said while the province holds jurisdictional responsibility for housing and social services, “we feel responsible and accountable for the health and well-being of residents.
“That is a fact.”
Savage said discussions with the province have begun but need to be accelerated. The PC cabinet led by new Premier Tim Houston was sworn in Tuesday afternoon, and includes new Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane.
“There are options for people who continue to be unhoused and absolutely the provincial government needs to be the leading player in this,” Savage said. “This is in their mandate … this is what they are supposed to fund.”
Savage said the municipality has shown before and needs to show now that it can be a player in the housing solution.
“We do have some money available to us,” Savage said, alluding to the federal government’s rapid housing initiative, the federal restart fund from late last year and a doubling of gas tax money from the federal government to municipalities.
“This motion is simply designed to authorize action on crisis housing,” Savage said. “This is about immediate crisis housing and it authorizes us to take action.
“It is time, we can do it, I believe we should do it, in fact I think we have to do it, we have to make sure that everybody has a decent place to spend the night. I don’t want to be the mayor of a city where people don’t have the ability to at least spend the night in at least somewhat comfortable conditions and give themselves a chance to achieve their potential.”
Dube said homelessness is challenging and complex issue that is a moving target.
“We believe that there are 81 unhoused individuals needing a solution right now,” Dube said. “Prior to yesterday, there were 26 other individuals who accepted other housing options as a result of this collaborative work that has been going on.”
Dube said there is much more work to do.
“An additional funding of $60,000 was provided by the municipality this past winter to help navigators (Navigator Street Outreach Program) secure short-term accommodations, such as hotel stays as well as increased access to services.”
Dube said it’s very clear that the current short-term accommodation options are not sufficient to meet demand.
He said municipal staff was tasked several days ago to assess municipal properties that could be used for temporary accommodations and to identify other privately owned buildings that could be retrofitted for occupancy before winter.
“So far we’ve identified three potentially viable private sites, two of which require a fit-up … plus mobile units that can be set up on our (municipal) land,” Dube said.
If all those efforts come to fruition, they would accommodate 40 people, Dube said.
Dube said the $500,000 council approved on Tuesday could be increased if needed in future.
Councillors spoke in support of the motion, some joining the mayor in taking the province to task for not fulfilling its obligations to tackle the housing crisis.
“What we are really focusing on today is the 81 people that the CAO said are living rough right now and also the 380 to 400 people who are chronically unhoused, according to the AHANS (Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia) survey that they update monthly” said Waye Mason, councillor for Halifax South Downtown.
“We also recognize that the housing crisis is deeper than that, that the housing crisis includes working-class folks and everyday people who cannot find a place they can afford to live despite having jobs and the shortage of new housing or appropriate housing for an entire spectrum from middle income to the folks who are living rough right now.”
Mason said the motion passed Tuesday is a “short- and medium-term shot in the arm to try to get people out from underneath canvas or nylon and into appropriate and safe housing.”
ORIGINAL ARTICLE: https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/news/halifax-council-passes-short-term-relief-for-homelessness-crisis-in-the-municipality-100628951/