Three recently derelict tent sites at a provincial park in Halifax offer a glimpse of the reality to an increasing number of Nova Scots who have been forced to sleep outside.
The campsites were at Long Lake Provincial Park, off St. Margarets Bay Road, off the main trail in a wooded area. They were discovered this fall, and later cleaned up by 13 employees with Halifax Water over two days this month, spokesman James Campbell said.
“Your heart goes out to the people who live in these situations. They were obviously living pretty rough,” he told CBC’s Morning Information on a Friday.
Campbell said the sites look like they have been abandoned for some time “based on the rotting food, and that some of the tents are still up and some are flattened, and only a lot of debris flowing around. “
Halifax Water employees cleaned up the sites because they may be on Halifax Water land.
The number of chronically homeless people in Halifax has more than doubled since last year, and with shelters full due to COVID-19 restrictions, advocates say more people are sleeping in tents, or under tarps, park benches and other places outside.
Eric Jonsson, who works with the Navigator Street Outreach program, conducts informal surveys of the number of people sleeping rough and estimates that about 40 people in the Halifax area currently have no shelter.
He, and a group of other service providers, spoke to 23 of them this week, he said.
“I see a bunch of people who are accessing refuges, and they want to go to a shelter, but every time they call, they are told the shelter is full, try to call back tomorrow , “he said.
This is a big change from previous years, he added, where many people who slept outside either did not want to stay in a shelter or were barred from doing so.
The most recent survey was made Wednesday, the same day the province announced temporary relief to renters. Jonsson said he was happy to see the province take action, but compared the measures to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
“If we do another count three months from now, I predict there won’t be a huge drop in the number of people sleeping rough because it’s such a widespread problem,” he said. “The province hasn’t been doing much for a long time.”
He said the government needs to build hundreds of affordable units each year to help all Nova Scotians who are homeless.
“Ideally, we need to spend as much money and build as many affordable housing units as we can … and over years, not just as one-time things.”
On Wednesday, Housing Minister Chuck Porter announced $ 1.7 million in funding to replace 30 beds removed from the homeless shelter system as a result of changes required by Public Health protocols for physical exhaustion.
The minister said meetings were about to take place with service providers to decide how to get as many people off the streets as soon as possible. Porter said the government is committed to finding ways to address the issue.
Also on Wednesday, Halifax council unanimously approved three housing projects for funding under the Ottawa Rapid Housing Initiative, a program launched by the federal government to quickly house vulnerable people across the country.
Campbell said people who helped clean up the sites found 900 kilograms of junk, as well as 250 hypodermic needles. He said it appeared that people had been living there for a long time.
“It’s a real danger to park users,” he said. “You know, a lot of people let their dogs run free in these areas which is kind of off the beaten path. And there could be families back there and their kids are running loose a little bit and they stumble upon some of these things. It’s not a good situation at all. “
He urged Nova Scots who find derelict camps not to approach them but to come into contact with Halifax Water staff.
“We’ll look into it, find out who owns it. And if it’s ours, we’ll definitely jump on it right away. And if it’s not, we’ll definitely work with whoever needs it cleaned up to be cleaned up. “said Campbell.
Jonsson said Halifax is a close-knit city and that people look out for each other. He is hopeful that whoever stayed at Long Lake Provincial Park has found a warmer, safer place to go.
“Everyone of all kinds keeps an eye on each other, and … I’m hopeful and I’m pretty sure they’re probably doing better than they were when they lived in tent, ”he said.