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Hamilton using $11.3 million in provincial funding to expand, improve shelters during pandemic

A large encampment on Ferguson Avenue North was recently dismantled and the city says it's been working to get those homeless residents into shelter space. Lisa Polewski / Global News

Hamilton will be using provincial cash to expand local shelter spaces and keep them operating through the winter.

In a release issued earlier this week, the Ford government said it’s committing $241 million to protect “the province’s most vulnerable from COVID-19, including those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.”

Just over $11.3 million of that will go toward helping Hamilton continue operating shelter space at an isolation centre, three hotels and a drop-in centre, as well as acquiring a new facility and renovating two existing emergency shelters.

“We’re working hand in hand with our partners to make sure they have the tools and flexibility they need to keep people safe,” Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP Donna Skelly said in the release.

Read more: Hamilton to receive $10.8M in federal dollars for new housing

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Paul Johnson, director of Hamilton’s emergency operations centre and general manager of health and safe communities for the city, said the figure is the “full amount” of what the city applied for through the Social Services Relief Fund earlier this year.

“What this will do is allow us to continue what we’ve been doing throughout this pandemic, which is increase shelter spaces, make sure our shelters are safe from a physical distancing perspective, and from an infection prevention and control perspective, have hotel spaces available for surge capacity, and in certain cases, hotels available for people who can’t fit into the shelter system well.”

The funding covers operating costs through to March 31, 2021.

Johnson said it will also help to add more shelter space for people who have been living in tents across Hamilton.

The city’s biggest encampment on Ferguson Avenue North was recently dismantled, and Johnson said they’ve been able to get about 40 of those people into shelters or hotels so far.

“We think we’re down now to about 50 or 60 people in encampments — at its height, it was about 150,” said Johnson. “Most of the time, our first step is to get people into shelters, and then from there, work with them around how to get into transitional housing. And the ultimate goal, of course, is permanent housing.”

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Read more: Hamilton begins removal of homeless encampments

Local advocates for homeless residents say the city could be doing more to address the urgent need for affordable housing.

During a press conference on Ferguson Avenue several days after the encampment was dismantled, Sarah Jama of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario said removing people from one street doesn’t solve the problem.

“This is going to keep happening. There are people set up in Gage Park, there are people set up in parks all over this city. Just because they’re not congregated into spots of 120 people doesn’t mean that we’ve fixed the issue at all.”

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