January 27, 2024

Homeless encampment gets wired for electricity—with help from the film community

Photo credit: Daniel Jardine/CBC News

The tent encampment of homeless people at Grand Parade in the middle of Halifax’s downtown core is one of hundreds currently peppering the centres of many Canadian cities.

Yet, the Halifax encampment received a surprising source of comfort in the new year from a company more famous for supplying world famous film and television productions with equipment. William F. White International, a Sunbelt Rentals Company, dropped off donated equipment to run power lines over the encampment area that would route the power from a VOLTstack 30K portable generator provided by Star Power Atlantic – a company which sells and rents emissions-free generators—to allow each tent to have electricity.

The plan to wire the encampment for electricity was approved by the Halifax city council and Nova Scotia Power. According to CTV News Atlantic, volunteer, Steve Wilsack, a long-time health and safety officer in the film industry, asked for help from his friends in the industry and was one of the people to bring the proposal to city hall.  The power source is nearby city hall. The electricity runs from there to the VOLTstack, where it’s distributed all over the encampment through cables supplied by William F. White International.

“The Halifax City Council and Halifax citizens are all making contributions to help, so when we were approached by members of the Nova Scotia film community, we jumped on board,” says Trevor Sutherland, Branch Manager, Atlantic Canada, William F. White International Inc. “It was the least we could do.”

One encampment resident, Oshane Anthony Johnson, told CBC reporter Danielle Edwards that he had been living at the site since Christmas Eve and that having power has greatly improved his living conditions.

“It’s a … huge difference,” Johnson said. “The tent’s warm, there’s light and it’s cozy.”

Communities across Canada reported an increase in homeless encampments since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Infrastructure Canada. “The growth of encampments reflects a complex set of factors associated with the pandemic including the strain on public healthcare and social services systems, the challenging housing market, the economic contraction in 2020 and subsequent increase in the cost of living, and the persistence of chronic homelessness.”

The National Working Group on Homeless Encampments, a group made up of a collection of mayors, academics, and encampment residents, released a report in November 2023, which says municipalities need to meaningfully engage with those living in encampments and look at all alternatives to eviction or removal.