Labour union LiUNA slams Hamilton over location of new tiny shelters

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Published August 31, 2023 at 11:33 am

tiny shelters tiny cabins HATS public consultations Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters homelessness shelters
COURTESY OF VICTORIA MANCINELLI VIA TWITTER

Labourers’ International Union of North America is calling on the City of Hamilton to work with it to find another site for the newly approved pilot for tiny shelters, saying the City failed to consult with residents and stakeholders before it chose the location of the project in the North End.

“We’re calling on the City to do the right thing,” said Victoria Mancinelli, director of public relations,  communications,  marketing and strategic partnerships for LiUNA, in a phone interview with inthehammer.com. “Let’s sit down together to find a location that’s going to promote success. Let’s work together to make sure this is successful.”

While Mancinelli said the labour union doesn’t have any private meetings with the mayor or City staff, she plans to attend the next public consultation meeting on the draft plan for the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS) pilot. It will be held on Sept. 11 at the Bennetto Community Centre in the North End from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The mayor’s office confirmed to inthehammer.com that Mayor Andrea Horwath will attend the Sept. 11 meeting.

As the Mayor communicated to LiUNA directly, Council directed city staff to enter into an agreement with HATS so that public engagement and the exploration of site specific issues could begin,” said Horwath’s spokesperson Michelle Shantz in an email to inthehammer.com in response to LiUNA’s concerns. This is a tough issue for everyone involved, and the Mayor is committed to working with city builders like LiUNA and Hamilton residents to address the complex challenge of homelessness and ensure that our public spaces remain safe and accessible to everyone.”

Mancinelli,  LiUNA’s director of public relations, posted a video on X, formerly called Twitter, in which she questioned why the mayor was not at the first neighbourhood meeting about the tiny shelters site last weekend (Aug. 26).  

“(The mayor) accused LiUNA of lacking compassion due to our logical opposition to site location. LiUNA is here standing with our community. Where is the Mayor? I would suggest it is the city who lacks compassion NOT those who are actively working together to find and provide solutions.”

Mancinelli was referring to the mayor’s letter responding to LiUNA’s opposition about the location in which she said Horwath had made that accusation. 

Mancinelli posted photos of people holding signs that read: “Mommmmy I stepped on a needle,” “You can’t silence the North End!”, “Why can’t we ask about the location or site selection process? We deserve to know! Ward 2 deserves to know!”, “This is public notification not public CONSULTATION”.

‘It looks like the city is setting up the pilot to fail’: labour union 

In a phone interview with inthehammer.com earlier this week, Mancinelli said “the issue is not with HATS … our opposition is not the concept of tiny homes … We are opposing the site, due to not meeting the criteria … lack of protocol, transparency and consultation by the City.”

She said the City was given a list of 19 sites but chose Strachan even though it didn’t meet the criteria, noting the site raises safety concerns since it is directly near the front doors of homes and 100 metres from an elementary school and community centre.

“It looks like the city is setting up the pilot to fail,” she told inthehammer.com.

She said the union is working with the community, HATS and the City to hopefully find a new site for the project. 

We have received hundreds of letters, emails, comments, all saying please do not stop fighting for us, we feel the City has abandoned us,” she said. 

In response to concerns about the site and criticisms about the lack of consultation, Shantz, the mayor’s spokesperson, said Horwath is “focused on balancing the needs of unhoused individuals and the very valid concerns of neighbouring communities.”

She said the HATS pilot project will help facilitate the transition to permanent housing for the homeless and the City’s goal is to take “tangible steps” to help with that while keeping individuals and neighbourhoods safe.

“HATS has come forward with a pilot proposal that will help facilitate that transition, while providing increased services and security in the proposed site,” Shantz said. “The Mayor looks forward to working with them, city staff and Hamilton residents to move this pilot forward in the best interest of all involved.”

LiUNA writes letter to mayor raising concerns about tiny shelter location

In a letter by LiUNA international vice-president Joseph Mancinelli to the mayor dated Aug. 23, the labour union asked why the Strachan Street East location was chosen and why there was consultation only after the “uproar” from the community and stakeholders about it.

“The recent decision by Hamilton City Council to install Tiny Homes on Strachan Street East, without consultation, is an affront not only to the families that live in the neighbourhood but to the surrounding businesses, including Liuna Station.”

The group pointed out that the Strachan Street location was never on the HATS list of preferred sites. It noted the site is “small and will be a tight squeeze for 25 homes, and it is just across the street from homes, close to schools and a recreation centre … and neighbours of the CN Rail.”

The letter mentioned LiUNA has supported housing solutions and “successfully delivered numerous rental, low income and affordable housing” in Hamilton for over 40 years.

While the tiny shelters will be heated cabins with security and support staff rather than tents, LiUNA wrote that the area has had safety concerns with encampments under the James Street bridge, including fires, smoking and disposal of “harmful materials.”

“We are left dismayed as to the lack of transparency, lack of consultation and lack of communication that has been provided regarding this controversial initiative,” he wrote.

Tiny shelters are ‘big’ difference from encampments: non-profit group

Tom Cooper, treasurer of the grassroots non-profit Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS) and director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, previously told inthehammer.com that the project has “big differences” from encampments. For instance, it has 8’x12′ structures with heating, electricity, a microwave, fridge and bed.

“It’s a lockable space that enables some privacy and safety for the residents,” he said. “We’ll also be staffing the tiny cabin village 24/7 and providing security; most tent encampments are organically developed communities of individuals who are unhoused who band together for companionship, assistance and sometimes safety.”

The cabins won’t have running water or toilets inside but there will be a common facility on site for toilets, showers and a kitchen facility.

Cooper said HATS is partnering with community organizations to provide supports related to mental health and addictions to help people “heal and then prepare for affordable, supportive housing options once they become available.”

He said supportive housing provides assistance for vulnerable people who need help with daily living or maintaining their housing, from keeping their places clean to checking on people a few times a week to determine their needs.

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