Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said he nearly “fell off his chair” after learning that Halifax’s council was planning to establish designated homeless encampments in historic parks such as the Halifax Common and Point Pleasant Park.

During a media availability following a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Houston said his provincial government had previously proposed about 40 possible encampment sites to the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).

“I thought it was completely nuts, some of the sites they have been putting forward,” he said to reporters.

“The designation of some of these sites is just really hard to get the head around — how the HRM council could think these would be appropriate sites and the impact they would have on communities.”

The nine new locations, presented by city staff to Halifax councillors on Tuesday, include seven on the Halifax peninsula, including Bayers Road Windsor Street Park, BiHi Park, Chain Lake Park, Cogswell Park, Glebe Street Park, Halifax Common berm and Point Pleasant Park.

In Dartmouth, Bissett Road Park and the Geary Street green space were selected as designated sites.

All locations were said to be chosen for their proximity to public transit and other services, and for their distance from schools, parks, gardens, or culturally sensitive areas.

Out of the location recommendations approved by Halifax, the Nova Scotia premier said the decision to designate an area of Point Pleasant Park to serve as a homeless encampment was what shocked him most.


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“Certainly, Point Pleasant Park and the Commons are standout,” he said. “The sites that they put forward are pretty shocking.”

In an emailed statement to Global News on Wednesday, a Halifax spokesperson said “the specific area of Point Pleasant Park for potential use as a designated location” is yet to be determined.

Houston continued to say the province has made “significant” investments toward the housing issue in Halifax and his colleagues need a “willing partner” in the municipality.

“We’re a compassionate government, we’re there to support. We’ll provide services but some of the decisions surrounding some of these sites are just shocking in the impact that they will have,” the premier said, adding that he’s anticipating another delivery of Pallet home shelters in the fall.

Click to play video: 'HRM to designate more encampment sites'

During a lengthy discussion among Halifax officials on Tuesday, Coun. Lisa Blackburn pinned the core responsibility of addressing the ongoing housing crisis on her provincial counterparts.

“This is a provincial responsibility, and we are just doing what we can with the resources that we have,” she said, adding that councilors are just “putting the band-aid on the gaping chest wound. I think we need to start every conversation about this with the recognition that the province has the responsibility for emergency housing and shelter space.”

Coun. Sam Austin, who represents the Dartmouth Centre constituency, described the selected options as the “lesser evil” — although he says he understands the challenges and likely backlash associated with the new locations.

Austin said existing encampment sites, such as the one on University Avenue near the city’s hospital and Northbrook Park in Dartmouth, are “spiraling out of control” throughout the Halifax area. In addition, he said an encampment on Green Road in Dartmouth, matches the size of a Lower Sackville site that was dismantled a few months ago.

“If we don’t designate locations, then there’s no solution for Green Road and University Avenue. Northbrook Park falls apart,” adding that the municipality might’ve not been forced to make this decision if the Pallet shelters had arrived at the originally anticipated time.

“If we don’t do something today, that is what happens … it’s the least bad of terrible choices and that’s all we have, terrible choices.”

As of June 25, Halifax’s by-name list has grown to 1,316 people experiencing homelessness throughout the city. Out of the four locations currently acting as encampment sites, 88 tents are set up in areas said to be suitable for about 30.

In addition, city staff estimated that about 150 people are sleeping rough in urban areas throughout Halifax.

— with files from Global News’ Skye Bryden-Blom and The Canadian Press

— with files from Global News’ Skye Bryden-Blom and The Canadian Press