This winter, a group of anonymous volunteers has been building and distributing small wooden structures in a desperate attempt to provide shelter to people with nowhere warm to sleep. As stated on its website, the group is “aware that what we are doing is not a solution to the housing crisis in our city, nor it is a solution to homelessness.” However, the group “would rather build safe, secure shelters using [its] limited resources than leave fellow community members to die outside in the cold this winter.”
Yesterday, the municipality said it would be removing one of the shelters in downtown Dartmouth; for a while it seemed to back down but then threatened to remove it again. The response by some of the city’s councillors, even so-called “progressives” like Sam Austin and Waye Mason, has been disappointing (For example, you can hear Austin’s interview on CBC here.)
We would like to offer the following suggestion of some things that councillors like Mason and Austin could have said instead.
Some residents of Halifax have raised concerns about the shelters placed downtown. They say the shelters may be unsafe, or that they’re unsightly.
They’re right, of course. These shelters are no one’s idea of a decent home. They are a last resort. They’re being built because all three levels of government have failed to ensure that everyone in this city has a roof over their head.
There is no good reason why anyone should have to “sleep rough.” There is plenty of unused indoor space in the city. We live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, in one of the wealthiest periods in history. And at a time when just the municipality has paid millions to subsidize a mostly-empty convention centre so that developers can maintain their profits, we’ve allowed dozens of our most vulnerable residents to shiver in tents in subzero temperatures.
As a councillor I understand that some people are concerned about zoning laws and building codes. But really: what’s more important than ensuring that members of our community don’t freeze to death? Where is the concern, as one member of Halifax Mutual Aid put it, when those community members were sleeping in tents?
We obviously need long-term solutions to our housing crisis, starting with measures like permanent rent control, investment in non-market housing, and increases in minimum wages and income assistance rates to livable amounts. We need to prioritize people’s well-being over developers’ and landlords’ profits.
As an elected official I will work tirelessly to make these things happen. I will relentlessly lobby the province for those things which are in its jurisdiction.
And in the meantime, we need to support those who are stepping in to work with those abandoned by government.
Halifax Mutual Aid can always use financial and material support. You can reach them at HalifaxMutualAid@riseup.net.