As Colder, Stormy Weather Hits East Coast, Growing Fears Tent Encampments Are Unsafe


As temperatures drop and winter storms arrive in Atlantic Canada, some cities are scrambling to find ways to keep people in homeless encampments warm.

In St. John’s, N.L., people living in a park in the heart of the city were shoring up their tents Wednesday as the forecast called for several centimetres of snow, though by day’s end it appeared the full brunt of the storm had shifted west.

“Everyone’s scared,” said Nicole Noble, who has been living at the tent city in Bannerman Park in St. John’s, since Nov. 1. “We need help. We need shovels, we need hats, we need mitts.”

Noble and other residents of the encampment woke up Wednesday morning to wet clothes and bedding and a thick field of mud after a day of rain. With forecasts for -2 C overnight Wednesday, Noble said she’s worried about how to keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a ball field on the outskirts of Halifax, volunteers were still helping residents of an encampment in the suburb of Lower Sackville recover from a storm Monday that brought powerful winds and a heavy downpour.

Nikki Greer, president of a non-profit group assisting about 40 residents, said 10 tents collapsed and volunteers drove people to shelters only to find there was no space.

“I’m very concerned, very upset. This is very inhumane … they (the homeless residents of the ball field) have faced very traumatic experiences and they’re feeling abandoned,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

The provincial governments in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have been grappling with growing homeless encampments as the provinces face housing shortages and soaring rents.

In Halifax, Liberal Opposition Leader Zach Churchill pressed the deputy minister of the Department of Community Services on Wednesday for a timeline on when small, heated units — referred to as “pallet shelters” — will be shipped and installed. The Progressive Conservative government has touted the shelters as part of the short-term solution for the winter months.

“I really do fear that we’re going to see people perish this winter as a result of cold temperatures and lack of support and shelter,” said Churchill, speaking during a meeting of the province’s public accounts committee.

Deputy minister Melissa MacKinnon told Churchill the province has ordered 200 of the pallet units, which have insulation, locks and basic kitchens and can be hooked up to electricity.

However, she said she needs confirmation from the Department of Public Works and the electrical utility that occupants of the pallet shelters will have access to nearby running water and electrical outlets before she can provide a delivery date in Halifax, which has been allocated 100 of the units.

She also said the province wants municipal councils to indicate support and for the wider public to “accept them as part of a larger community.”

Claudia Chender, leader of the NDP, said during the committee meeting that she has heard from constituents who fear being evicted due to rising rents and ending up in one of the encampments.

“Within a few kilometres of where we’re standing, we have people worried about how they’re going to pay their rent and to retain their homes,” she said to reporters after the legislature hearing. “I didn’t hear anything today that would suggest these folks can breathe a sigh of relief.”

Meanwhile, in St. John’s, Noble appealed for help and supplies before winter grows colder and windier. “If this doesn’t work, the only thing that’s going to work is someone dead,” she said.

The Newfoundland and Labrador provincial government issued a news release — before a shift in the forecast for the storm — urging unhoused people to call its emergency shelter line to get a bed indoors.

But Noble said she and the residents of the tent city are all too familiar with the province’s emergency shelter system, which sometimes contracts private landlords to provide low-barrier shelters in homes throughout the city. Noble said the privately owned shelters are unsafe and that she’s been abused and sexually assaulted while staying in some of them.

About 30 people live in the St. John’s encampment, which they call Tent City for Change. There are signs on the fence surrounding the area protesting rent prices and discrimination by landlords against people with addictions and mental health issues.

Noble asked why the city or the provincial government couldn’t provide shelter for the night in a nearby empty building, just to get everyone through storms.

“Just please show us that you believe in us, and I can guarantee we’ll amaze you. Because these people have heart,” she said, gesturing to the tents and their inhabitants around her. “You’d be surprised what we can do together.”

Source: Global News