The Conversation: Halifax Mutual Aid

Campbell McClintlock

When a police operation against unhoused people turned violent, many blamed Halifax Mutual Aid. Volunteer Campbell McClintock shares a different perspective on the organization and its work

Halifax’s housing crunch hit a breaking point in August, when police razed shelters and violently clashed with unhoused people and their advocates in front of the former Central Library on Spring Garden Road. 

Halifax Mutual Aid volunteer Campbell McClintock has been on the front lines of the crisis, serving at a local shelter as a residential support worker. With Mutual Aid, McClintock and dozens of volunteers built the small insulated shelters that drew the municipality’s ire during the summer. 

McClintock brings a groundlevel perspective on homelessness, including how social inequality plays a role, why different levels of government have failed to resolve the issue, and how the city goes forward to remedy the problem that is gripping the city. 

Advocacy passion: “In university, I studied international development studies. My idea was to go into other countries and assist in developing economically deprived resource-deprived areas. I was excited to work in that field until I realized about halfway through that program, as a North American, I didn’t have any right to turn my back on the social complex issues we experienced here in Canada and in the U.S. An opportunity to work at a shelter felt meaningful because in a country as wealthy as Canada, for there to be people that are homeless at all, there’s something wrong with that. It was exciting and important for me to feel like I could participate in a solution.” 

Today’s critical issues: “The present issue of houses is growing exponentially, and that’s compounded very much by the COVID-19 pandemic and skyrocketing rental prices. The reason this is happening is not that the city or the province or other levels of government lack the resources to be able to stop homelessness … The homelessness situation in Halifax has been avoidable and preventable, but it has not been the priority of the people we elect to represent us. We’re at a point now where people in the community are not going to stop talking about this issue until it’s clear that there is a long-term sustainable plan.” 

Housing inequality: “There are many policies in our province, in our country, that favour wealthy people and favour developers to develop properties that are not affordable to charge very high rates, and there are policies that incentivize these practices. Essentially, if you have the resources to develop high-cost luxury housing, there are rewards from the government. If you are born into poverty or forced into poverty at some point in your life, it is very expensive to be poor, as we saw at the Aug. 18 police evictions.” 

Why Aug. 18’s police operation turned violent: “That was a very violent and targeted act from a powerful governing body … People on the street are not only routinely harassed and violated by police, but because of the constant stress of this, they are prevented from ever being able to be involved in society in a meaningful way or to do anything that might increase their wealth to be able to have a natural home, so we have so many policies and values in Canada — despite how nice we might like to pretend we are — that favour wealthy people to remain wealthy and to become wealthier while people in poverty experience deeper poverty.” 

Understanding the housing crisis: “Everybody is entitled to housing. Unfortunately, many of our programs in Canada, if you’re a homeless person, involve jumping through hoops and facing all sorts of barriers to be considered for anything resembling housing … You have to abstain from drugs, you have to work 80 hours a week, or do any of these moralistic things to be deserving of the simple comfort of a home … We’re saying for ourselves that we need to be a certain way to deserve a roof over our head. We don’t recognize that, in a country as resource-rich as our own, we have the capacity to house everybody and that that should be the starting point. We would have a much healthier, happier, and cohesive society if we could integrate that very basic principle into our lives.”

The government’s failure to resolve the issue: “Their priority is a short-term gain they received by allowing luxury real estate developers to come in and hand money over to the government is much more appealing to them than the long-term economic boon of actually investing in the health and safety of all their citizens. I think most economists would probably be able to demonstrate that the best thing for an economy is investing in your citizens’ health, happiness, and safety. Unfortunately, the priority for our politicians seems to be short-term financial gain.”

What we need: “One is enough available housing to house the entirety of Canada’s population. Two means implementing rent control and other measures to maintain rents at a minimum wage rate that people can afford. The reality is that so many people in Canada work on minimum wage, including new residents. For us to say, come to Canada, we’re so wonderfully kind and diverse, and then force people into the most menial underpaid jobs and then ask them to find housing in the middle of the housing crisis.”

How you can help: “One of the most basic things people can do is develop relationships with the houseless neighbours and their community if they’re able to inquire about what might be needed. If people have the capacity, food, and warm clothing can go a long way in the winter. People who put time and energy into developing those relationships with our houseless neighbours will quickly reveal that unhoused people are not different from us … It’s important that we work to make sure that people are not isolated and that we are not operating our lives in a way where we are blind to do this very pervasive injustice.”

Off duty: “I like recording and playing music, riding my bike, gardening, and hanging out with friends. Being involved in this work, it is crucial to take time to take care of your health and rest. Otherwise, I’m not going to be able to do the work long term. I’m going to burn out.” 

Correction: Due to an editing error, Campbell McClintock’s name was misspelled in the print edition of this story. Unravel Halifax regrets the error; we’ve updated our proofing processes as a result.

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