Hamilton’s sole voice within the provincial government is promising to meet with affordable housing advocates after she was confronted by protesters during a funding announcement in the city.
Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP Donna Skelly and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark both spoke during the announcement at an Indwell property on Wentworth Street South on Monday afternoon.
The provincial government said it’s allocating about $20.5 million to Hamilton from its previously announced $1 billion to address Ontario’s affordable housing crisis.
The money, which is provided through the province’s Home for Good program and Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative, will go toward helping vulnerable residents find stable housing and gain access to support services, such as counselling, addiction services, and life-skills training.
During the announcement, more than two dozen members of Hamilton ACORN, which lobbies on behalf of vulnerable tenants, stood on the sidewalk and chanted loudly.
Skelly addressed the protesters’ presence during her speech.
“We do reach out to all stakeholders and all people,” said Skelly. “Including ACORN, who are protesting here today, to hear what their concerns are and to act upon those concerns.”
ACORN member Veronica Gonzalez, who lives on the Hamilton mountain, said she wants the government to listen to the people who are actually impacted by the housing crisis first hand.
“Right now we live in a rental unit and we have no repairs,” said Gonzalez. “People are moving out, they’re coming in — some people have gone on the streets because the repairs are just not adequate and it affects the health of people.”
After the announcement, Skelly’s SUV was blocked in the parking lot by the protesters, who refused to move. Several members expressed their frustration at not being able to organize a meeting with Skelly to discuss their concerns.
Eventually, Skelly left the vehicle and spoke briefly with ACORN chair Mike Wood, who said he wants Skelly to hear from vulnerable tenants in Hamilton first hand so the provincial government can implement policies based on actual lived experiences.
“We would rather collectively meet in a very peaceful setting where you can hear from everybody and be able to take that to the provincial government,” said Wood to Skelly, who nodded as she listened.
“There needs to be more done. And the only way that’s going to be done is if you hear from your own residents, and be able to take that to the province and say, ‘Look, I’ve spoken to many residents who are renters, and I see a different side.'”
Skelly said she’s open to a meeting with residents, provided it’s scheduled through an appointment and held in a larger space than her office, which can only accommodate a few people at a time.
She also cited Indwell as a group that uses government funding in an effective way to help vulnerable residents.
“This is why we believe organizations like Indwell are the people that we need to turn to,” said Skelly. “They are working with people with lived experience. I’m not a person who has a background in what you’re discussing, but people who work here do. And that’s why we’re turning to leaders in the community that have addressed these challenges and are doing great work.”
Wood asked Skelly if she would promise to meet with ACORN and she agreed, and the protesters dispersed to allow room for Skelly’s vehicle to exit the parking lot.
“Now that we’ve actually had this discussion — which is a first — let’s let the space cool off a bit,” said Wood following their exchange.
“The ball’s in their court now. It’s time for them to answer.”
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