The dismantling of Hamilton’s large homeless encampments started late Wednesday night in keeping with bylaws, according to the city.
Tents have been cropping up across Hamilton since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The most notable have been on Ferguson Avenue between Cannon and Barton streets and York Street outside First Ontario Centre.
The city closed Ferguson late Wednesday to allow task force members to remove that encampment.
“This follows a week where task force members continued their work with encampment residents to provide them with information about the options available to them, ” the city said in a release on Wednesday night.
The move is part of an agreement to end litigation between the city and community advocates who took legal action claiming Hamilton didn’t offer proper supports for the homeless population.
After an extension of a Superior Court injunction in late July, which challenged bylaws, both parties agreed to appear together before the Superior Court to withdraw the application.
The agreement calls for the advocates and the city to continue engaging with provincial health authorities to help people who need more support than municipal shelter and outreach efforts can offer.
Hamilton has been dealing with the increase in homelessness during the pandemic in a number of ways including the set up of a men’s homeless shelter at rink level of First Ontario Centre — operated by Good Shepherd — and an encampment task force dismantling unsanctioned sites through collaboration with housing services, bylaw officers, police, and paramedics.
The Task Force includes the city’s Housing Services, Municipal Licensing Enforcement, Waste Management, Mental Health, Street Outreach Services, a Social Navigator and assistance from the Hamilton Police Services.
Over the past few months, the Task Force says it’s been able to find accommodations for 70 people living in encampments. The city says 20 people were placed in hotels, 26 in shelters and 15 individuals put into a permanent residence.
The city says it spent over $60,000 for additional waste removal and security at the sites over the last few months. Police and paramedics say they also endured additional costs related to medical and other service calls.
The city has already spent over $1 million for additional emergency shelter spaces in 2020 amid the pandemic.
Hamilton’s general manager of emergency and community services Paul Johnson said on Tuesday the removal of encampments will take about a week or two due to the fact that well over 100 people occupied sites across the city.
“So it took us a while to get here. It’s going to take us just a little while to get back from that,” said Johnson.
“We’re doing work, particularly at Ferguson Avenue, First Ontario Center and Whitehorn, to reduce those numbers down to zero.”