Halifax park used as encampment by homeless cleared out and fenced off

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Halifax city workers and police on Friday cleared a park close to downtown that was being used for the last year as an encampment by homeless people, who were sleeping there in tents and wooden shelters.

Meagher Park was “physically secured” by city staff while officers were on hand to assist, police said in a statement issued early Friday morning, adding that the people living there were offered alternative housing.

Last month, the city cited health and safety concerns — including a rat infestation — for demanding people leave the park by July 17 so that it could be cleaned. The city in June approved four parks where a total of 32 people could set up tents and receive services that include bathrooms, but Meagher Park was not on the list.

Some homeless people had been staying in Meagher Park, also known as People's Park, since police were ordered to remove tents and shelters on the grounds of the former Halifax public library on Aug. 18, 2021. That event sparked clashes between police and demonstrators on streets lined with shops and cafes, and protesters were sprayed in the face with chemical irritants.

Police said they cleared and fenced off Meagher Park in a way that was meant to reduce trauma and protect public safety.

“Officers took a patient, measured and supportive approach throughout as the process unfolded while acting in a supportive capacity,” Halifax police said.

Zachary Gough, a spokesperson for Halifax Mutual Aid, the organization behind many of Halifax’s wooden shelters, said in a statement that “the city escalated a campaign of intimidation and threats of violence against those sheltering at the park” over the last several months.

“Which eventually resulted in every resident fleeing the site,” he said.

The number of people living at the park has varied significantly since last summer. At its peak — in the fall — there were 34 people living there, and as of last week there were nine residents.

Halifax spokesperson Ryan Nearing said in an email the city got confirmation late Thursday night that the remaining individuals living at the park either accepted temporary housing or had moved elsewhere.

Calista Hills, a volunteer who works with residents at Meagher Park, said in a text message interview some residents have moved to other green spaces or parks in the city, a couple have secured hotel stays and some aren’t sure where they will go.

Some personal belongings and tents remained at the site when it was fenced off. The city said if anyone who sheltered in the park wanted to retrieve their belongings they could arrange to pick them up.

Gough said he’s concerned that unhoused people who were living at Meagher Park face greater risk now that the park has been closed down.

“At People’s Park, they had strength in numbers, the eye of the media and a community of supporters to help prevent evictions," he said. "Dispersed, they face violence and evictions alone.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press