Point Pleasant? Popular park as a homeless encampment site faces scrutiny – Halifax

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Halifax has accepted city staff recommendations to designate nine new homeless encampment sites in several prominent parks throughout the region — with one being the city’s historic Point Pleasant Park, a largely forested area that is a popular attraction amongst locals and tourists.

In an emailed statement to Global News on Wednesday, a Halifax spokesperson said “the specific area of Point Pleasant Park for potential use as a designated location” is yet to be determined.

Jonathan Eayrs, a Halifax resident who was out enjoying Point Pleasant’s walking trails on Wednesday, said he doesn’t believe encampments are an effective way to address the ongoing housing crisis, and as a result, public spaces are paying the price.

“They need to look into the root causes of what the problems are,” he said, adding that he believes further resources need to be allocated toward improving public shelter environments. “There are reasons why they choose to be there, those need to be looked into.”

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Eayrs said he doesn’t think encampments should be set up in public spaces like Point Pleasant Park.

“Let’s say, Victoria Park, for example, once there’s difficulties, they have to close it off and the net result is the public can’t use it. So, I see these encampments as basically a takeover of something that should belong to everyone,” he said. “When looking for housing, you usually talk about our own private spaces but not taking over public spaces.”

John Hamilton, also walking the trails, echoed a similar sentiment.

“I mean, this park is for the public’s enjoyment. It just seems like a bunch of band-aid solutions to something that needs a lot more than that right now,” he said, adding that he uses the park regularly. “Definitely shouldn’t be using a public park where people take their kids.”

Hamilton said Point Pleasant is an important area to the entire community.

“Doesn’t matter what time of day it is, whether it’s in the morning or late at night, people are taking their dogs here. There’s Shakespeare in the Park here. It’s a public area,” he continued. “There’s a lot of history here.”

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Despite disagreeing with the park facilitating a homeless encampment, Hamilton said he understands the severity of the ongoing housing crisis, adding that improving regulations surrounding rent caps and tenancy could help mitigate the problem.

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Pat McMullen, who was walking her dog through the park on Wednesday morning, said her reaction would be dependent on the encampment’s location within the park.

“If it was off to the woods and not interfering with everybody’s day-to-day activity then I think, in theory, it would be alright,” she said, adding that she wonders if there would be additional supports provided beyond just the space itself.

When it comes to balancing the needs of park users with those without access to housing, McMullen said she’d be “perfectly happy” to avoid certain areas of the park if everything was organized properly.

“I know there’s eight other places, so presumably there wouldn’t be that many people here,” she said. “That’s the other thing, how many people are they going to let in?”

Homeless numbers rising

In his presentation to Halifax councillors yesterday, Bill Moore, the municipality’s executive director of community safety, said the new locations will act as a “pressure release” from other areas.

“If we continue to see the number of those sleeping rough, who are going to be doing that through a tent or encampment, we will be looking for additional spaces,” he said.

The nine new locations include seven on the Halifax peninsula, including Bayers Road Windsor Street Park, BiHi Park, Chain Lake Park, Cogswell Park, Glebe Street Park, Halifax Common berm and Point Pleasant Park.

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In Dartmouth, Bissett Road Park and the Geary Street green space were selected as designated sites.

Click to play video: 'HRM to designate more encampment sites'

HRM to designate more encampment sites

All locations were chosen for their proximity to public transit and other services, and for their distance from schools, parks, gardens, or culturally sensitive areas.

No timeline was given regarding when the encampments would open and how many would be permitted at each location.

As of June 25, Halifax’s by-name list has grown to 1,316 people experiencing homelessness throughout the city. Out of the four locations currently acting as encampment sites, 88 tents are set up in areas said to be suitable for about 30.

In addition, city staff estimated that about 150 people are sleeping rough in urban areas throughout Halifax.

‘Least bad of terrible choices’

Coun. Sam Austin, who represents the Dartmouth Centre constituency, described the selected options as the “lesser evil” — although he says he understands the challenges and likely backlash associated with the new locations.

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Austin said existing encampment sites, such as the one on University Avenue near the city’s hospital and Northbrook Park in Dartmouth, are “spiralling out of control” throughout the Halifax area. In addition, he said an encampment on Green Road in Dartmouth, matches the size of a Lower Sackville site that was dismantled a few months ago.

“If we don’t designate locations then there’s no solution for Green Road and University Avenue. Northbrook Park falls apart,” adding that the municipality might’ve not been forced to make this decision if the Pallet shelters had arrived at the originally anticipated time. “If we don’t do something today, that is what happens … it’s the least bad of terrible choices and that’s all we have, terrible choices.”

Austin said if the municipality doesn’t intervene and coordinate designated sites, homeless encampments will “pop up” in neighbourhoods that are not suited to handle the capacity. As a result, he said a daycare centre near Northbrook Park has already stopped bringing children to its location.

“There’s no choice right now before us that is a ‘no encampment’ option and that is sadly where we are,” he explained.

— with files from Global News’ Skye Bryden-Blom and The Canadian Press

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