Nova Scotia Civility Strains To Accommodate The Homeless

upper floor of an abandonned house
Halifax Council ponders authorizing encampments. Meanwhile other residents are scouring the city for empty homes like this one and noting their location on a open-source map.

For new arrivals, Nova Scotia offers a friendly sense of superiority not uncommon in the Canadian maritimes. It’s a quiet certainty that “you’ve come to the right place.” But that superiority is anything but exclusive. Folks seem happy to have you share in their good luck for being there.

At the moment, however, such feelings may be muted or absent in Halifax, capital of Nova Scotia. That very civilized city has been undergoing a crisis of conscience which beset its population starting in August, 2021.

The city and region have been plagued with a chronic housing shortage that has spanned decades. While understandable, the barefaced presumption of the people who had been occupying local parks last year became too much for civic dignity. In August, a tent clearance was officially ordered at a local park. Police-enforced and violence-tinged, it strayed too far from civilized maritime sensibilities. It seems that Haligonians have been licking their consciences ever sense.

One consequence is that Halifax Council is now making plans to allow tent encampments in some public parks. That’s certainly a departure from the current trend in North American cities, which justify tent encampment sweeps by criminalizing the homeless. ‘Against the Law’ conveniently allows authorities to carry on sweeping the homeless bubbles under the city-map wallpaper towards some ill-defined end.

Making tent encampments legal is easier said than done. The current debate in Halifax seems to be driven by desire to find a compassionate way of achieving a humanitarian goal.

There are also a thicket of practical problems to consider both by the council that must implement any plan, and the activists who attempt to give meaningful voice to the proposals under consideration.

Read more about them at CTV NEWS ATLANTIC: New report outlines how Halifax can help hundreds of its homeless and SALTWIRE: Halifax homeless advocates push back against encampment plan

One perspective, both activist and academic, is that stop-gap tent encampments, whether sanctioned or swept away, simply mask the real problem — a lack of affordable housing. The following article discusses more permanent housing options. It includes an ‘crowd-sourcing’ project to create a dynamic map of empty housing in the Halifax/Dartmouth region. Read more at Global NEWS: Why having certain parks for unhoused people in Halifax ‘misses the point,’ expert says

At its most recent meeting Halifax Council decided to proceed with a plan that would authorize camping at up to 18 sites. See pages 7 through 11 of the Meeting Minutes for a motion by motion account.