Every morning after checking out of the Salvation Army shelter on Gottingen Street, Vincent Moka makes his way to the Halifax North Memorial Public Library to have a coffee.
Moka, 52, started coming here after a friend told him about the library’s free services. It’s also a warm place for him to go during the day.
As he searches for cleaning jobs, he works on his English. It’s been a month since Moka moved from Toronto, where he was living with his ex-partner and their teenage children. He is originally from Nigeria. He came to Halifax for a new start but ended up homeless.
“I check my mail here and I receive my mail, and they send the mail … they’re good to me here, it’s amazing … they’re good people,” said Moka about the library staff.
This nearly 60-year-old building was last renovated in 2004. Halifax Public Libraries (HPL) website states about 1,000 people use the small space everyday. Staff said that peak hours are after-school when kids use Wi-Fi, play games and do homework.
“The Halifax North library is busier than it was before the pandemic … we’re at risk of it closing every day due to a whole variety of building issues which is too long to list today, but it is long and we are nervous,” said Åsa Kachan, HPL’s chief librarian and CEO, who spoke to Halifax regional council at a budget meeting on Jan. 18. One issue she mentioned was the library’s leaky roof.
She said the library is also an important space for the African Nova Scotian community.
While Halifax Regional Council is under pressure to keep the library open, council debated other capital projects at the meeting, such as a new fire station for fast-growing West Bedford.
Cathie O’Toole, HRM’s new chief administrative officer, said many factors outside the city’s control, including inflation, labour shortages, delays in supplies and high population growth, affect the budget process and “staff continue to update the project elements to mitigate these impacts.”
Last November, HRM regional council asked city staff to limit the property tax increase for the coming year to four per cent, rather than the eight per cent that was recommended by staff.
Halifax North Memorial Library’s capital budget allocation was cut to zero for 2023-2024.
But District 8 Coun. Lindell Smith asked the budget committee to request a briefing note with options to fund library capital projects. Libraries such as Halifax North branch would then be added to the budget adjustment list, putting funds back in for 2023-2024.
“Libraries are like a safe haven for many walks of life,” said Smith, a former community library assistant, who spoke to council about a homeless library regular he saw daily. Recently, Smith ran into his friend and saw how they had lost weight because they hadn’t been eating. They went for a bite together like old times at the library.
“This is the type of thing that happens every day in our libraries … the work that our [HPL] staff are doing,” said Smith about relationship building. “Pushing these projects out is actually more of a risk than not funding them.”
Deputy mayor Sam Austin, a longtime resident of downtown Dartmouth, expressed support for the North End library as his district has similar issues.
“Probably the biggest contributor to public safety is the library,” said Austin. “Everyone is welcome there … they have the social workers, they have people that will help them.”
A business unit presentation on HPL is scheduled for Feb. 10. The final recommendation report for the 2023-24 budget and business plan will be released April 25.
About the author
Crystal Greene (she/her) is originally from Winnipeg, where she lived most of her life. She now lives in Kjipuktuk/Halifax with her toddler....