Crumbling family shelter system in Hamilton, report finds


Published September 11, 2023 at 7:17 pm

Courtesy: CHCH

Hamilton is facing a crisis in its family shelter system as the number of individuals experiencing homelessness reaches an alarming high.

Since January 2023, there have been 488 instances where families were turned away due to a lack of beds or overflow space. This represents 98 unique families who were unable to secure shelter.

According to the Homelessness Individuals and Family System (HIFIS) data as of July 31, the city is grappling with a sudden surge in family homelessness, posing an issue for local authorities to keep up with.

The data shows that 1,985 individuals are currently (Sept.) experiencing homelessness in Hamilton, marking an increase of 258 individuals and 166 households from the previous month.

“It’s a concerning trend that we’re seeing in terms of our shelter system,” said Michelle Baird, Director of Housing Services Hamilton, at the General Issues meeting held last week (Sept. 6)

“The shortage of affordable housing makes it increasingly difficult for those experiencing homelessness to transition to stable living situations,” Baird added.

The report says the rise in mental health crises and addictions and the increase in refugees and asylum seekers have put pressure on the current shelter system.

Family shelter system in Hamilton: 

There is only one emergency shelter providing support for families experiencing homelessness, the Good Shepherd Family Centre. It has 104 beds of which 80 are funded through the Housing Services Division.

Currently, as reported by Good Shepherd, the center is operating at double its funded capacity, and due to a lack of space, families are sleeping in all available areas, including hallways and administrative spaces.

Additionally, there are two local hotels (contracted by the housing division) to provide shelter for 30 families, with an additional 10 families currently accommodated in non-contracted hotel spaces.

Tackling the overflow at family shelters : 

The Housing Services Division is asking the city to rethink its strategy to focus on the new reality of growing encampments, family homelessness, and an influx of refugees and asylum seekers by:

  • Creating 50 additional emergency shelters or transitional housing spaces specifically designed to accommodate families experiencing homelessness
  • Addressing the root causes of family homelessness and providing comprehensive support services to help families transition into permanent housing
  • Developing strategies to expedite the process of transitioning families from emergency shelter to stable, permanent housing

The report also recommends allocating upwards of $4.1 million to address the needs of the emergency shelter overflow and $ 1 million in additional support from the COVID-19 reserve to address the staffing needs within the Good Shepherd Services Hamilton.

Courtesy: Housing Services Division Report

“If we make a choice not to invest in this particular recommendation we are in a place unfortunately where we simply do not have the capacity in the system to accommodate families,” Baird said.

After deliberate discussions on all the items on this report, the General Issues Committee voted in favour (16-0) of addressing the recommendations in the Housing Services Division on Sept. 6.


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