The COVID19 pandemic has brought the homelessness problem, in Hamilton into heightened visibility, as facilities such as the library and other indoor spaces had to close. Most visible is the encampment outside First Ontario Centre which has been a source of public comment and complaints. City staff have dismantled some of the encampments—but community groups that work with homeless persons have made written delegation to council’s Emergency and Community Services Committee urging that the dismantling be halted at least until the COVID crisis is over.
Dr Jill Wiwcharuk and Dr Tim O’Shea, of the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team (HAMSMaRT) wrote: We are imploring you to recognize the severe health consequences facing people who do not have housing, to recognize that we are in a new era where the old rules are not necessarily the best ones and to refrain from moving encampments along whenever possible. From our perspective, it would only be acceptable to move people along when they are either being moved to housing units with appropriate supports or to an ultra low-barrier, highly supportive shelter model that will give them a chance of success. Moving people into one of the current shelters or hotels to have them evicted two days later only further decreases the trust that people have in the system, making them less likely to engage in the future.
Jody Ans and Lisa Nussey are with K6. A group of people who have personal experience living on the street. They wrote: The existing services for shelter in the city are valued and have hard working dedicated people in them and, we acknowledge, consume a great deal of resources. But we are all in agreement that the existing services do not meet some people’s needs. Some of us simply do not succeed in them. Teams of people worked extremely hard to humanely and respectfully clear people from the Sir John A encampment. On a Friday most if not all were in shelter or hotel. By Monday many were discharged and back on the street.
The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic pointed out in its submission that other cities in Ontario have dealt with the encampment issue without mass dislocations, writing: Housing is a basic human right. The right to adequate, safe housing, is further heightened during the era of COVID-19. Dismantling homeless encampments, in light of the significant risks to the individuals who are forced to move, infringes on their right to life, liberty, and security of the person. Given that many of the affected individuals are racialized, and/or have mental health, addiction and physical disabilities, these groups are also disproportionately impacted by displacement.