Andrew Smith spent Saturday fearing he’d lose his home.
The tent he’s lived in for the entire pandemic was nearly ripped apart by a storm that swept through Halifax on Friday night.
He’d been on edge since Friday evening after learning about the city’s abrupt crackdown on 14 crisis shelters set up in Halifax and Dartmouth. Three structures were removed by the city Friday, four days before the eviction deadline it imposed for this Tuesday.
“They’re not going to take these tents, are they?” said Smith. “Are they seriously just going to take my tent and rip it right out of there?”
His is among a handful of tents set up among two crisis shelters located at the old Halifax library on Spring Garden Road. So they are excluded from the removal order and are staying put.
But that gives him little reassurance. The shelters are full and no one has offered to put a roof over his head, he said.
“Yeah, what control do we have, what options do we have?” he said. “We are people that live day by day knowing that eventually we’re going to be screwed.
“The city and the provincial government have ignored us throughout the pandemic. Why would they help us now?”
Smith said people can’t imagine what he and others living on the street- whether in a tent, crisis shelter or just a sleeping bag – have to endure. In the thick of winter, he survived by putting layers over his tent and using candles for warmth.
As of Sunday, nine of the 14 shelters remained standing. Each were built by Halifax Mutual Aid, a group of volunteers. They started building the shelters in the fall in response to the growing housing and homelessness problem in Halifax Regional Municipality.
Group spokesman Campbell McClintock said they made a decision to remove two of the shelters Saturday because those occupants had agreed to move into a hotel.
The option of a temporary hotel stay is being offered to shelter occupants by the municipality and province.
The municipality released a statement Friday explaining its decision to remove the shelters. The release said it would ensure temporary accommodation options “that can bridge to permanent housing,” but it offered no details about where and for how long these temporary accommodations would be provided.
Smith said he’s not been offered any housing options, including hotel accommodations.
McClintock said only three of the five people who lost their shelters have been put up in hotels. The other two are in a shelter.
Neither addresses the root of the problem, he said.
“The city and the province are relying on the existing shelter system to provide these people with housing,” McClintock said. “But the reality is that for the last several years, shelters in this city have not been able to provide much housing for folks because it is in such short supply.”
He figures there at least a couple of dozen tents occupied by homeless people like Smith in the municipality. The city’s stance is that tents are safer than the crisis shelters, he said.
“But I think for people living in a tent, that statement would not ring true for them.”
Andrew Goodsell occupied the first crisis shelter located at the old city library. All told, he was homeless for six months during the pandemic.
After a month and a half living in a crisis shelter, he was given a one-room apartment at The Rebuilding, one of two not-for-profit apartment buildings in Halifax run by Shelter Nova Scotia.
Goodsell believes he basically embarrassed the city into finding him accommodations. He said the sight of the structure generated so much negative publicity that the city was forced to help him. He said he managed to jump the queue of 400 people on the waiting list for Shelter Nova Scotia accommodations in the city.
“I’m so thankful to Halifax Mutual Aid,” he said. “The whole organization is trying to help out people that the city and province refuse to help.
The reality is the city and province can no longer ignore the housing crisis in Halifax, Goodsell said. He pointed to Shelter Nova Scotia having only two apartment buildings in the city that house 31 people in total. The last apartment building – Herring Cove Apartments – was opened in 2015.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “Buy a couple of apartment buildings, deck them out in bachelors and one-bedroom apartments with an office worker.”
Wayne MacKay, a Dalhousie University law professor, says the absence of a public plan to address the housing crisis and city’s homelessness problem remains the over-arching concern.
“They are removing these shelters without having a clear alternative in place for the people who are then homeless and then back on the streets,” said MacKay, who’s an expert in human rights law.
The situation highlights both how marginalized people have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and governments’ reluctance to address longstanding issues of inequality in society, MacKay said.
“We’re looking at a group who are particularly vulnerable and you’re removing the few supports they have without yet putting in place some kind of alternative,” he said.
Original Article: https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/news/homeless-halifax-man-worries-city-will-come-after-tents-100610379/