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Public consultation seeks legal encampment options for Hamilton

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A Hamilton city councillor says if a majority of residents vote ‘no’ to sanctioned encampment sites in the city, they’ll need to offer up “other solutions” to mitigate the growing homelessness problem.

As of this week, Hamiltonians can make their feelings known about legal tents in designated areas across the municipality via an online survey and how the city staff should handle some 1,600 people experiencing homelessness.

“The fact is that encampments and homelessness exist in our communities and we need to find out what residents think are the best ways to deal with those problems,” Ward 8’s John Paul Danko told 900 CHML’s Scott Radley Show.

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A housing services idea seeking the creation of sanctioned encampment zones, of up to five tents in parks and other city properties, was sent back to the drawing board in mid-May.

City staff have since been asked to report back in August on the idea of a sanctioned encampment that could allow sites of up to 50 tents where individuals would have access to washrooms, running water and support services.

The online survey generally focuses on two issues: support for a sanctioned encampment program and a protocol mitigating encampments that pop up outside of sanctioned sites.

“And that’s kind of when somebody shows up in a park, and sets up a tent, should we allow people to camp overnight in a tent at a park or city property?” Danko explained.

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Director of housing services Michelle Baird says so far no locations have been identified as suitable yet and is hoping the reach out to the community will give some hints on where and how the city can provide a place of stability.

“This is not a solution to homelessness by any means, however, we have individuals who are sleeping outside and we need to provide a solution in the meantime,” Baird told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

Ultimately, Baird says affordable housing is the solution to the problem and that the prospective encampment plan won’t be permanent.

The launch of the survey comes the same week the Hamilton Encampment Support Network accused officials of facilitating a “voluntary eviction” of people at the so-called “Whitehern” tents near City Hall.

On numerous occasions, Hamilton staff have in the past few months issued trespass notices in the hopes of vacating the city’s largest encampment.

The eviction of Whitehern residents continues today. Police officers have been on site since 7 AM “asking” residents to pack up and leave. Today is the third day HPS has been facilitating a “voluntary” eviction of residents.


— Hamilton Encampment Support Network (@HamOntESN) June 8, 2023

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Despite spending some $70 million over the past year on support programs and adding hundreds of supportive housing spaces, the crisis continues and time is running out to find “better solutions,” Danko said.

A Hamilton group hoping to build a small community of tiny shelters for those experiencing homelessness was also sent back to the drawing board in January after failing to find a suitable location.

The Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS) couldn’t push through any of the three proposed sites to house a community of eight-by-10 cabins.

Danko admits that is part of the complex puzzle with the sanctioned encampment initiative suggesting it would “not be fair” for council to impose a site in “somebody’s neighborhood park.”

“So I think that is a consideration, and this is a city-wide issue,” he said.

“This is not an issue that’s just affecting one area of the city, it’s not just downtown … it affects residents and businesses and those that are visiting our city.”

Danko will join peers in other Mountain wards on June 19 and hear directly from constituents via an engagement session from 7-9 p.m. at the auditorium in the Hill Park Recreation Centre.