‘This has given new life to many of the residents’: Advocates defend supplying electricity to Halifax homeless camp

Critics have complained online about a recent deal that has brought free power to a homeless encampment in Halifax.

The man who spearheaded the effort to provide electricity says it’s a small concession that should be available in all camps.

“It’s amazing. It’s the equivalent of running into the woods and giving power to someone,” said volunteer Stephen Wilsack. “This has given new life to many of the residents. Their ability to charge a phone, to have electricity, to have devices just to play music.”

The fountain is near the Town Hall. The electricity runs from there to a rented generator and backup battery, where it is distributed via cables throughout the camp.

Wilsack, a longtime health and safety officer for the film industry, says that’s exactly how they run the power on a movie set.

“I would like to thank the city and Star Power Atlantic and WF White who came together to solve this,” he said.

Areas where power lines run on Grand Parade have been cordoned off by the city, with warnings that snow clearing will not take place there. People from the local film industry donated time and money to bring the energy from city hall to the camp. (Source: Bruce Frisko/CTV News Atlantic)

Wilsack recruited friends and industry colleagues to lay the cables, and the installation was approved by the city and Nova Scotia Power.

“It’s a turning point for the residents,” he said, a sentiment echoed by Oshane Anthony Johnson, who has lived there since Christmas Eve.

“Usually in tents, when you go camping, you don’t have electricity. So now the electricity in tents is different. Everyone is afraid of the change, but it helps,” Johnson said.

Still, with cost-of-living increases piling into the new year, some Nova Scotians are unhappy with the deal and are criticizing it on social media.

They (the homeless) are “getting too much” and are “enabled,” a couple of users said.

Another user suggested the setup represents a “fire hazard” and asked “who’s footing the bill?”

And another added that many already receive checks from the government and “now get free energy.”

Wilsack has heard the criticism, but remains committed to the idea.

“Other camps should also have electricity,” he said. “The bottom line is we shouldn’t have been left homeless.”

In a statement to CTV News, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said: “We remain focused on working with the province to achieve more indoor shelter options. Until we have better options, providing power to people sheltering in Grand Parade is a reasonable measure to improve safety.”

In late November, the province said it was working “as quickly as possible” to implement additional supports, but there have been no details.

In an afternoon statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Community Services department said work was ongoing.

“The Windmill Road shelter has been expanded to a 100-person capacity, with the potential to expand during extreme weather events,” said communications advisor Christina Deveau. “We continue to work closely with service providers and partners like HRM to determine what other supports we can offer in the near future.”

Wilsack says permanent, long-term solutions are what are needed.

“Let’s put them in a housing situation. It’s going to cost, but the alternative is, if we don’t do it, it’s going to cost lives.”

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