Hamilton councillors to see staff report before possible encampment bans in some parks

Click to play video: 'Hamilton councillors poised to clash over calls to ban encampments in some parks'
Hamilton councillors poised to clash over calls to ban encampments in some parks
Ward 2 Coun. Cameron Kroetsch insists asks for new park encampment exemptions in Hamilton are an 'apples-to-oranges comparison' since the makeup of a space on Strachan, earmarked for a recreation space, is not similar to established parks like Sam Lawrence and Southam parks – Jul 5, 2024

Motions that sought to exempt some Hamilton parks from homeless encampments are now on hold after city councillors agreed to wait for staff to provide input on whether it can be done.

City politicians voted unanimously to deploy two municipal divisions to study how an existing encampment protocol could be altered to keep tents away from green spaces currently undergoing or set to undergo redevelopment.

The ask comes from Ward 2 Coun. Nrinder Nann, who insisted on “a citywide approach” for potential encampment exemptions to avoid red tape every time a ban request for a new green space comes forward.

Nann said she also wants to know if exemptions could create an “over-concentrating” of encampments in other areas due to the displacing of tents.

“I really want to hear from staff about how we can help mitigate those negative impacts,” she said during a committee meeting Monday.

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“It’s important from a policy framework perspective for us to have that information prior to any other further motions coming from individual councillors regarding their specific sites.”

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The measure essentially puts off what appeared to be a looming conflict between councillors after three leaders sought to keep four parks encampment-free while upgrades are made to community-use spaces.

Sam Lawrence, Southam, Confederation Beach and Mountain Drive were the parks three councillors had been seeking exemptions for amid multi-million-dollar approved redevelopments that are or will be taking place within the next year.

An existing exemption for a city-owned strip of land on Strachan Street East between Bay Street and Ferguson Avenue North was the precedent for the politician’s demands.

The proposed Strachan Linear Park, near the city’s harbour district and CN rail tracks, received dispensation during a proposed conversion into 25 tiny homes with supports for some of the city’s unhoused.

The tent exemption was built into staff recommendations as part of a now-defunct Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS) development and has remained in place since.

Ward 2 Coun. Cameron Kroetsch said he was grateful for the compromise, which now puts the matter into the hands of city staff, who he suggests have a better handle on the problem, having already studied homelessness and its effects across Ontario and Canada.

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“I know staff is aware of this evidence, has read it, and I think it’s important to have them weigh in on what they think makes the most sense here concerning the context in the rest of our province and in the cities,” he said.

Ward 6 Coun. Tom Jackson, who had sought an exemption for Mountain Drive Park currently going through a two-year, $2-million redevelopment, supported the staff report but didn’t withdraw his motion.

“I’m willing to defer mine and strongly support what I’ll call a compromise opportunity for staff to come back in August, but still would reserve the right to reintroduce my motion … pending the results,” Jackson said.

Hamilton’s general manager of public works, Carlyle Khan revealed that 41 small capital projects are ongoing in the city’s parks as of July, with another 16 large redevelopments and 10 “facility type” projects.

Staff from the city’s parks department and housing division will undertake the report and are expected to report back during a general issues committee on August 12.

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