Halifax is giving a group of people living in tents in a city park 12 days to move, saying a rat infestation is posing health risks and there are now alternative locations for them to live.
Municipal officials said on Tuesday that people need to leave Meagher Park — located near the city's downtown — by July 17, estimating that five people currently are sheltering at the site.
Max Chauvin, a city official who has worked on the housing issue since last March, said during a news conference that people have been "living rough" in the small park for about a year.
"The park is being closed because it's not safe to be there any longer. So we want to transition people to better options," he said.
"If you go to Meagher Park and take a look, the park has been used heavily for a year. It's essentially full of mud and other things like that, but there are also rats. And not one or two rats, but there is a significant rat population and it's not a safe place for any use."
Chauvin said alternatives include temporary housing the city has opened over the past year, or — if those units aren't available — the park residents can shift to one of four designated parks where a total of 32 people without homes can set up tents and receive services that include bathrooms.
Last summer, a similar notice led to the arrests of 26 people outside the former public library in the city's downtown, as protesters demonstrated against contractors dismantling temporary wooden shelters.
Mayor Mike Savage said Tuesday he's hopeful that the transition this summer will be peaceful, as more options are available to people without housing.
"I'm not the mayor of a city that is going to fine people for being homeless. Our intent is to find homes for people who are homeless," he said.
He noted the city has created modular units in several locations where people without housing can live and is participating in the federal rapid housing initiative.
Asked if police will move in to enforce the latest order, Savage replied, "I tell you, nobody wants the police to go in less than the police do .... Our goal is to find a peaceful solution."
Calista Hills, a volunteer who works with the residents of the park, said in an interview Tuesday that the order to move was expected, but the short notice still came as a shock.
"Primarily people are worried that they won't be offered a viable option in the next week or so," she said. Some are considering the sites proposed by the city, but she said there are issues with the locations. "Some are near construction sites and railways, and that's not viable for a good night's sleep, and the sites are also further away from services they access daily," she said.
The city says it is closing Meagher Park to new arrivals and visitors immediately. "Once vacated, Meagher Park will be fenced for reconstruction work over the coming months to return the park to its original state," the city said.
The Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia said that as of June 14, the city had 200 shelter beds and 622 unhoused people.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press