The lawn at 5381 Spring Garden Road has, over the course of the pandemic, become a site for homes for some displaced Haligonians: Tents and squat wooden structures known as “crisis shelters,” built by volunteer organization Halifax Mutual Aid.

In June, HMA had built 13 shelters across the city, and said it had a waiting list of 20 more people. In July, mayor Mike Savage said “We’re not going to move in and force people out,” and the city’s “goal is to treat people like human beings.” But on this August day, city workers and police worked together to destroy these shelters and forcibly remove their occupants.

On-the-ground reports of mace (including a 10-year-old child being maced by officers) and police in hardback gloves and riot gear have been tweeted by journalists at the scene, many of whom were threatened with arrest by police if they neared the shelters. But the old library isn’t the only community uprooted today. Photos of tents being thrown in the garbage at Peace and Friendship Park (located at the corner of Barrington and South Streets) and of police presence at Horseshoe Park and Geary Street in Dartmouth have also been reported.

No police arrived at Victoria Park, but a handful of people living in tents dismantled their tents and packed up their belongings as they spoke with the Examiner. They said they had nowhere to go and had been offered no assistance in finding housing.

One man told the Examiner for he had been living with his father at the father’s apartment, but the landlord insisted he leave because they were violating the rules for the number of residents per unit. He said he planned to move his tent to a heavily wooded area in the south end.

Another man said he had a job and a room in a house in Cole Harbour for $250/week, meals included, but an injury left him without a job and, soon, without a room. He was attempting to file for government relief, but said his calls were going unanswered. As he understood it, he can’t get income assistance without a fixed address, so he’s applying for money provided to people without a fixed address — “$380 a month; it’s something, I guess.”

On Wednesday morning, bylaw officers and police told people who were living in tents and shelters at Horseshoe Park, the Common, Peace and Friendship Park and the former Halifax Memorial Library site that they had to get out of their homes and were fined for breaking a bylaw.

In the afternoon, the situation became physically violent when about 200 protesters and dozens of police congregated in front of the former library on Spring Garden Road, where one shelter was removed on a flatbed truck and another was dismantled with chainsaws.

Once again, the Halifax Regional Municipality has decided to remove the shelters that were erected by Halifax Mutual Aid to assist those in need until they can be housed permanently. Municipal compliance officers along with staff members from Parks and Recreation and Halifax Regional Police are on site to enforce removal efforts. The pretext being used is that these emergency crisis shelters are a “risk to the health and safety of both the tent occupants and the public.” This pretext is difficult to maintain, given that individually constructed shelters offer far more health and safety benefits, in the midst of a pandemic than forcing homeless individuals into shelters.

Furthermore, the city states that it is doing so, because “all members of the public have a right to use and enjoy the entirety of municipal parks,” despite the fact that such actions clearly show that certain members of the public (those lucky enough to have housing) are being privileged over others. The profound irony of statements affirming the city’s “commitment to an empathy-based approach to homeless encampments that recognizes the human dignity of people experiencing homelessness” against the backdrop of such actions is deeply troubling.

Once a homeless person gets off the street, that’s the end of the story, right? Not quite.

A new study led by Western University professor Carrie Anne Marshall – part of the Transitioning from Homelessness Project – concludes newly housed people need better supports because of a gap in services.

Marshall says individuals transitioning out of homelessness often face loneliness, hopelessness, long waits for services and trouble finding work. Paradoxically, Marshall also found many felt a stronger sense of inclusion, of being integrated within a community, before they were housed.

Tom Cooper, the director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, said rents have “skyrocketed” the last couple of years — something that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. He said the situation is creating a lot of demand for affordable housing — which isn’t there because governments of all levels have not made the necessary investments over the past 20 years.

He said while it’s great that recent affordable housing investments have been made in the city, the numbers just aren’t what’s needed to resolve the housing crisis.

“It’s a national housing crisis that has resulted from a lack of investment of the last 20 years — so it’s going to take a long time to catch up; it’s going to take massive investments in affordable housing.”