New homeless encampment protocol close to being ratified in Hamilton
Published August 17, 2023 at 8:07 pm
Following thousands of comments and impassioned attendees of town halls, Hamilton is poised to give its seal of approval for a revised homeless encampment protocol, including plans for a site with tiny shelters that it views as a “low-barrier alternative to encampments.”
The majority of councillors and Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath supported it on Monday, Aug. 14.
Ward 4 Councillor Tammy Hwang said she expects the City’s encampment proposal and related homeless response to be ratified during a council meeting Friday, Aug. 18 despite some opposition. Some councillors had pushed back against parts of the proposal, mentioning that their constituents were worried and upset about encampments possibly showing up at parks near their homes.
In a phone interview with inthehammer.com Thursday (Aug. 17), Hwang said council has to take a “whole-of-community approach … that homelessness is not just a Hamilton issue. Homelessness is something that is happening nationwide and across the world.”
Council’s support of the protocol and encampment response, Hwang added, gives the City a “more clarified process in which we are supporting both the community and those living in camps.”
Hwang called the protocol “a definitive roadmap” to let people know what will be allowed at encampments, such as the number of tents at a site, and will be a way for the public and encampment residents to get help and support.
“What we needed was some level of rigour and some sort of boundaries on where those living encamped can and cannot be so that’s what a big portion of this is,” Hwang said. “It is supporting those living in encampments and allows the community to have much more clarity as to where they can be.”
The homelessness situation has become so urgent that Horwath recently pleaded for more funding from the federal government to help with the influx of refugees and asylum seekers in the City’s shelter system.
“The goal was to achieve better outcomes by providing access to the services they need, with a particular emphasis on housing, within a safe and healthy environment,” the City’s report stated. “This approach aims to address the immediate needs of the unhoused population while also taking into consideration the safety and access to recreation for the broader community.”
In June, 11,943 people visited the City of Hamilton’s website to contribute 15,965 comments about the City’s proposed encampment protocol for homeless people. About 2,000 residents also attended three in-person community engagement sessions.
Tiny shelter project to create up to 25 temporary homes
The City said it recognized housing affordability and availability involves complex challenges such as substance use, incomes, and mental health. One of the recommendations for the City’s revised plan on encampments includes working with the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS). Under this plan, HATS will operate a two-year pilot of up to 25 temporary tiny homes on municipal lands. The site will have “appropriate security, services and supports at no cost to the City.”
The City identified the parking area on the Strachan Avenue linear park as a preferred site for the tiny homes that could start housing residents later this year.
Possible residents of the site will be chosen based on the City’s “by-name list,” a list prioritizing people with the greatest need of housing.
Other recommendations include the City’s Public Works providing security staff when opening up access to washrooms and showers for the homeless at parks and recreational centres.
The City report also recommends hiring more employees, including parks cleaners, bylaw officers, Indigenous staff and peer support workers with lived experience of homelessness and addiction. The extra staff would be responsible for keeping encampment sites such as parks clean and safe and enforcing the protocol.
New protocol expands distance between tents and playgrounds, schools
To accommodate the estimated 150 individuals living in the streets in Hamilton, a minimum of six sites would be needed with no more than 25 individuals at each site, according to the report on the protocol presented to council Monday.
The new encampment protocol is largely the same as the one from May except for few changes based on public feedback. City staff have recommended that encampments must be 100 metres from schools, day-care centres, playgrounds, pools, waterparks, or any spray pad (originally 50 metres was proposed). Sites must also be 10 metres from private property lines instead of five metres as was initially proposed.
The report acknowledged the 100-metre limit would pose a challenge to some encampment sites, especially the smaller parks downtown and the lower city.
Council had initially directed staff to make a draft encampment protocol in May and expanded public consultations when it was rejected by council due to human rights concerns. The previous encampment plan would have allowed legal encampments in parks and on city-owned properties in Hamilton.
Some residents believed the protocol was too lenient while others thought it was too restrictive, according to the City. During consultations in June, the overwhelming message from the public was they didn’t want tents in parks, citing safety and cleanliness concerns. The public also wanted “more permanent” solutions to help individuals without housing.
The City said due to “limited resources” and costs, it is not recommending identifying “managed sanctioned encampment sites and related resourcing at this time.”
Click here to see the revised encampment proposal.
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