Citizens act to house homeless; officials refuse to rule out removal

Andrew Goodsell stands in the doorway of his shelter in Dartmouth

DOING GOOD IN DARTMOUTH ISN’T EASY. City officials in Nova Scotia’s second largest city refuse to say whether or not they will let two bare-bones homeless shelters stay for good.

Halifax Mutual Aid, a group of anonymous volunteers, paid for, built and placed the shelters close to the city centre in a wooded area on the edge of city-owned property. They did not ask anyone’s permission to do it.

“It got so we just couldn’t stand by while people kept doing nothing,” said one volunteer. “The homeless are living, breathing reminders of how deep our housing crisis really is. We owe it to them—we owe it to ourselves—to do something direct to help. So we did.”

“If the city doesn’t like Halifax Mutual Aid’s approach, it should house people,”  said Kevin, another volunteer with the group.

“This is really the only true band-aid solution that anybody has done in this city for years. This is not a long-term solution, but this is getting people out of the cold.”

“This is not a happy, feel-good project for us. While we are driven to help, this situation is heartbreaking for us,” said one volunteer

A question of priorities

The shelters are small, about six feet by eight feet (little more than a garden shed) without water or electricity, but with insulation in the walls, a carbon monoxide detector, a steel roof and a door that locks.

“These are not to code, says Kevin. “There is no code for this. These are built by builders and people who know. They’re very solid.

“But it’s also a moot conversation because if you say, ‘That’s unsafe,’ but you’re perfectly fine with someone sleeping under a tarp on a bench, under a dark underpass or in a tent, then I have to ask where your priorities are.”

Paul was happy to leave the street to move into the first shelter on January 22; Andrew Goodsell, moved into the second one a day later.

“Four walls and a floor and a roof, and it’s warm in there,” says Paul, 49, who prefers not to share his last name. “It’s secure, it’s home."

Paul has been homeless for three years. He has spent the last few months braving the elements amid these trees; first under a large plastic bag that once contained a king-size mattress, and then in a tent.

Andrew had been sleeping on park benches until he moved into his shelter. He says:“It’s a lot better than getting rained on every night and just getting beat up by the elements.”

“I think it’s a very sad, pitiful way of trying to give someone a hand, but it’s the best thing that ever happened and it’s from the people, not the city."

Uncertain future

During the installation of the first shelter, someone called police. Officers showed up and left—it wasn’t a crime. The CBC reported city officials had no objections.

However, after the second shelter went up, rumours started to circulate that the city would move to evict the men and remove the shelters. The rumours led to a rally to oppose such actions.

A few dozen people gathered on the Dartmouth Common on January 25. But as more information came out, it became clear the city was prepared to let the shelters remain. But they made a point of refusing to say for how long.

In fact, a statement from an official city spokesperson warned: “The temporary shelters that were installed in Dartmouth cannot remain onsite indefinitely and will need to be removed.”

The shelters were still there as of February 5. Halifax Mutual Aid says there are more to come.

Link to Halifax Mutual Aid


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