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Halifax prepares to cut power to two homeless encampments by end of week

HALIFAX — The City of Halifax says it will cut electricity to two homeless encampments by the end of the week in the latest step in its eviction efforts.
Volunteers clean up and check on residents remaining at the homeless encampment in Grand Parade in front of city hall in Halifax on Monday, February 26, 2024. The City of Halifax says it will cut electricity off to two homeless encampments by the end of this week in the latest step in its eviction efforts.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

HALIFAX — The City of Halifax says it will cut electricity to two homeless encampments by the end of the week in the latest step in its eviction efforts.

In a notice issued today, the municipality said power would be shut off Friday in the Grand Parade, in front of city hall, and in the correctional centre park in Lower Sackville, a suburb on the northeastern outskirts of the city.

In addition, the notice says that "in the coming days, any items that have not been removed, or packed for storage, will be considered abandoned and these items will be placed in the disposal containers by municipal staff."

The city says staff are visiting the Grand Parade and the correctional centre park encampments, as well as another in a downtown park, offering to transport residents to new locations and provide free storage of their possessions for one month.

The city's deadline for people to leave five previously authorized homeless encampments passed on Monday, and while some residents have left, there were still people without housing at the locations earlier this week.

Steven Wilsack, a volunteer who has been helping residents of the Grand Parade encampment, said electricity from the city is a "lifeline" for the 10 to 12 residents remaining at the location, as it powers their heating and communication devices. 

"It's literally a forced eviction to people that are vulnerable, people that are sick .... It's a sad day when there is no home, and they're literally asked to pick up their belongings and move on," he said in an interview.

The city says the encampments are a safety risk and better housing options are available, including at the Halifax Forum, a shelter with 70 beds located in the north end of the city.

However, some unhoused residents say the Forum shelter is worse than the Grand Parade because it lacks privacy and security. They say the shelter — an auditorium-like space with cots separated by yellow curtains — doesn't provide the same level of safety, comfort or support afforded to people tenting in the downtown square.

The encampment at the Grand Parade had been home to more than 30 homeless residents at its peak.

In a statement on Sunday, the city said it expected everyone to leave by Monday, adding that there would be a "measured approach" to address those who refuse. As of Wednesday, the city said about 29 people remained out of the approximately 55 who had been staying at the five encampments under evacuation orders.

Halifax’s chief administrative officer, Cathie O’Toole, has said the city has the "legal authority to remove people."

In August 2021, a demonstration in downtown Halifax turned violent after police were directed by the city to clear public grounds of tents and temporary wooden shelters built by advocacy groups for people experiencing homelessness. Clashes broke out between police and demonstrators on streets lined with shops and cafés, and protesters were sprayed in the face with chemical irritants.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2024.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press