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City hall encampment shrinks as Hamilton uses outreach, notices to relocate unhoused

Photo of two tents in the forecourt of Hamilton City Hall on February 26, 2024. Global News

Campaigns that included outreach and notices from bylaw officers have thinned out a downtown encampment that now has only a smattering of tents outside Hamilton City Hall.

Some 40 tents that accumulated in the forecourt on Main Street West over the last month have dwindled to less than a handful as interactions with city staff have resulted in residents finding alternative accommodations.

The issuing of compliance orders and trespass notices in late March coupled with outreach appears to have succeeded in shrinking the non-compliant gathering, but the city’s director of Housing Services says they’re still not across the finish line.

“Given the numbers of people there, it’s certainly not something that’s going to happen overnight,” Michelle Baird said.

“But progress is being made, and we’re trying to connect people with the right services and get them to places where they can stay.”

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A call to open up the John Weir Foote Armouries to host a warming centre and the holding up of a Stoney Creek development replacing municipally-owned parking lots were two catalysts that sparked the encampment in late February.

Poverty advocate and organizer Angela Vos told Global News in February she and supporters were furious over council decisions connected with those living rough, characterizing them as “lacking humanity.”

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After a round of voluntary compliance notices asking encampment residents to leave on March 25, Hamilton police put more pressure on them hours later with trespass notices threatening enforcement if they didn’t leave.

The city’s notices insinuated the gathering didn’t meet the criteria for a legal encampment — a limit of five tents with minimum distances for personal space and between other tents.

Photo of poverty advocate Angela Vos in front of a display at City Hall in Hamilton, Ont. February 26, 2024. Vos said the encampment on Main Street East was a demonstration tied to the controversy over a stalemate from council on whether homes should be built over a Stoney Creek parking lot. Global News

“I didn’t expect this because I thought I made myself clear about the trespass notice and the fact that we are an active protest and that is our right to do so,” Vos said at the time.

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Vos would not only be served with the notices but charged for an alleged assault on a city bylaw officer. She will appear in court on April 25th.

Dan Smith, acting director of Bylaw Services says the “illegal encampment” is still under surveillance and that notices issued were in the name of safety for those making in-person to do business at 71 Main Street West.

“As a public space, we continue to prioritize safety and safe use for all Hamiltonians,” Smith said.

Baird says an extension of a winter response plan through to November means they will likely have capacity for those they still hope to transition from the encampment.

The service extending beyond the original March 31 end date means 140 additional drop-in spaces, 45 emergency shelter beds and 95 warming spaces will remain available in their inventory.

It’s funded through federal and provincial programs as well as a recent increase in the city’s residential tax rate.

“I guess it’s not necessarily a winter response anymore, as opposed to extending services that were offered as part of the winter response and extending them through the summer months,” Baird explained.

“The reason we’re doing that is we’re still seeing that extreme pressure within our shelter system.”

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