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More trespass notices issued to residents at Hamilton city hall encampment

Housing advocates with ACORN Hamilton and the Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN) rallied out front of city hall Friday May 26, 2023 opposing addition of a 'registry for homelessness' as a potential encampment protocol. Global News

Hamilton officials issued more trespass notices Thursday in the hopes of vacating one of the city’s largest homeless encampments.

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Municipal law and licensing’s Monica Ciriello confirmed to Global News some 27 notices were issued with the help of Hamilton police requiring residents of the so-called Whitehern encampment near city hall to depart immediately.

It’s the second time in the past month residents have been served, with ongoing safety concerns and the size of the encampment the primary motivation for the action.

“Given the increase in health and safety concerns and incidents at the location, to the community, staff and those residing in the encampment, including the two recent assaults,” Ciriello said.

Ciriello previously revealed some 20-plus responses from Hamilton fire since early April to douse open flames at the site.

Members of the Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN) revealed on social media that several other smaller sites in parks across the city were also issued notices to leave over the last few days.

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Along with housing advocates ACORN Hamilton, HESN rallied out front of city hall Friday morning opposing the addition of a ‘registry for homelessness’ to a potential encampment protocol allowing willing participants to house people living rough in spare rooms and backyards.

“This solution essentially reduces our neighbours living in tents to the status of stray pets in need of adoption by compassionate people,” said HESN’s James Lambert.

“It does not respect them as individuals who are worthy and entitled to a house with a door that locks, with space for their possessions with autonomy over their living space.”

The advocate suggested the idea was a “distraction” to put the housing issue on the shoulders of residents and not city politicians.

Director of housing Michelle Baird told Global News the overall encampment situation as of Friday was still “fluid” and previous estimates that put the number of sites around 100 as of May is just a ballpark number.

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The city still doesn’t have a long-term encampment protocol after the latest proposal to allow the creation of sanctioned encampment zones in Hamilton was rejected by city politicians.

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At present, staff are still dealing with the problem through an encampment response pilot created in early 2022 using enforcement and outreach workers to connect with residents.

“Housing continues to be the first point of contact for individuals…. They’re actually out every day, they work seven days a week,” Baird said.

“They try to better understand what people’s individual needs are, connect them with supports, building up a trusting relationship to have those conversations.”

Outreach staff have been at the Whitehearn site an average of four to five times a week since March 1, with offers of  “real-time shelter options” and space availability updates for residents.

Baird said the city’s shelter system is currently “beyond capacity,” with few resources available to relocate, but admitted there is a “flow” of “ins and outs” allowing for new entries as others find stable housing options.

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However, she couldn’t say for sure how often that happens, revealing it depends on finding permanent or transitional housing for those being looked after now.

She characterizes current encampment dealings as “more restrictive” than the sanctioned tents idea since it offers virtually no options when relocating.

“At this point in time, we really don’t have a place we can tell people is compliant and where they can go,” said Baird.

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Only about 11 per cent (33) of some 303 identified encampment residents found some sort of supportive housing via dialogue with city staff between May 2022 and the end of April.

At a recent general issues committee, staff suggested it costs about $8.9 million for the city and partners to find housing for roughly 200 people.

Baird went on to say individuals who are chronically homeless and sleeping rough often have needs beyond just residing in an empty room.

“It does take significant amounts of time to engage with the individuals,” Baird explained.

“Many of them have significant mental health issues, there’s substance abuse issues and lots of them come from a place trauma in their life.”

Since February, city staff have been meeting with community stakeholders to craft a permanent encampment strategy.

Housing services is set to launch a broad community consultation ward by ward in person and online during June to help craft a policy.

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Baird says the prospect of a registry for homelessness will be a part of that dialogue and logistics are yet to be determined, assuming it’s feasible.

“Can’t really say with respect to what it would look like versus all that exploration that’s happening now,” Baird said.

“Ultimately, this is probably a solution for some individuals; it’s not going to be a solution for all.”

Ontario reveals $6.8 million in supportive housing for Hamilton

On Friday, the Ford government reiterated a $6.8-million commitment to aid a social services relief fund to create 85 supportive housing units in Hamilton.

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Ontario put $4.8 million into 73 supportive bachelor housing units at 35 Arkledun Avenue and $2 million towards restoration and renovation of 180 Ottawa Street North to create 12 supportive housing units prioritizing young Indigenous parents.

The Arkledun project was shown off Friday in a presser, a five-storey apartment for women, transgender, nonbinary and two-spirit residents near the bottom of the Jolley Cut.

The government boasts it also will put $4.3 million more through the Homelessness Prevention Program for Hamilton, equating to $27.9 million annually for the next three years.


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