A large number of delegates appeared at Hamilton’s Planning Committee Tuesday to comment on the Council direction to toughen homeless encampment clearance. Under the new direction staff would be instructed to bring in Police within 12 to 72 hours that a Trespass Notice has been issued, and also that enforcement take place seven days a week.
The discussion provided an opportunity for staff to clear up some misconceptions about the multiple steps take in clearing homeless encampments and the interactions they take with encampment residents.
Steps taken in Encampment Clearance
- The City of Hamilton’s Licensing and Bylaw Services Division is the first point of contact for complaints regarding structures and tents in parks, road allowances and private property. MLE Officers will attend, provide education and seek voluntary compliance under the City Bylaw, ticketing those who are unsheltered will not be a course of action. If determined to be private property, MLE Officers will notify the property owner, including CP & CN Rail and MTO.
- If voluntary compliance is not achieved, MLE Officers will reach out to the Street Outreach and the Social Navigator Program. Outreach will endeavor to provide an update summary of the site including identifying potential opportunities for connection to services and housing for those individuals, assess their needs and update MLE of the actions that have occurred.
- MLE Officers will re-attend the location and, a verbal trespass notice would be issued to those contravening the bylaw. MLE will contact the Hamilton Police Service as the Trespass to Property Act, The City will continue to collaborate with HPS and the Social Navigator with regard to the service pathway. The last step will be to contact the Public Works Department (Parks, Streets, Waste Management) to coordinate a clean up.
- Housing Services’ Housing Focused Street Outreach Team connects with unsheltered individuals, regardless of their circumstances, to assess their immediate needs and housing preferences. The team completes common consent and intake forms for individuals not yet on the City’s By-Name List (BNL), supports with benefit applications, unit viewings, harm reduction supplies, connections and referrals. On a daily basis, the team undertakes progressive engagement to offer shelter or other available (and appropriate) space, works with individuals to find safe and supportive housing options, and works to address any barriers including a referral to our health partners.
Shelter capacity issues
During the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency shelter capacity has been expanded; however, occupancy pressures exist, particularly for women. Challenges remain in the access to available beds and in a number of instances capacity is not available. For example, length of stay in shelters has increased significantly during the pandemic and, with factors such as unaffordable costs of rent, housing availability has not kept pace with demand. Longer stays impact shelter bed turnover frequency, thus reducing the capacity of shelters to serve a higher volume of individuals.
For individuals for whom emergency shelters are not an option, Housing Services’ Outreach Team supports connection to health partners, works to address issues related to service restrictions, and continues progressive engagement towards accepting housing assistance.
Alternate housing found
From January 2020 to present, approximately 440 individuals and families have been housed by agencies funded by the City. Of the approximately 440 households housed, this includes people who have been unsheltered at one point during that time period. Since March 2020, more than 70 individuals were housed directly from encampments.
The City is increasing prioritization of those in encampments for permanent housing. From September to December 2021, Housing Services Division, together with partner agencies, will undertake a housing campaign to maximize resources and collaboration to house 250 households experiencing homelessness.
Violence, Threats and Emergency Calls
The report also noted that municipal staff have been subjected to threats and harassment in carrying out their duties—”verbal and sometimes physical aggressions have been noted at various sites. Waste management staff have received numerous negative comments, which may be perceived as threats from residents, activists, advocates and the general public. Staff have been videotaped with postings on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Staff have been called repeatedly at all hours on their cell phone. In one instance a staff member was assaulted during clean up, resulting in injuries to the worker and charges being laid by Hamilton Police Service. As a result, the injured employee has yet to return to work. Staff have been trained in non-violent crisis intervention, work only in pairs and are in constant communication with each other.”
The Hamilton Fire Department has attended to an increasing number of incidents involving encampments and individuals experiencing homelessness over the last three years (54 incidents in 2019, 82 incidents in 2020, and 101 incidents to date in
Hamilton Paramedic Service responded to 55 encampment related calls in four parks from October 1, 2020 to August 31, 2021. There has been a steady increase in paramedic service response to encampments in City parks in 2021, ranging from two in January to 15 in August.
The Hamilton Police Service indicated there were 502 events from October 1, 2020 to August 31, 2021 related to six known encampment locations, but not necessarily due to the presence of an encampment. These incidents include events related to trespassing, assist (ambulance & fire), and other events requiring police service response (i.e. assault, harassment, protests, etc.)
Affordable Housing project
Staff have proposed a pilot project to the Government of Ontario in order to address the needs of high-acuity individuals in Hamilton. The proposed pilot would include 40 new units of supportive housing to address the needs of higher acuity. The total funding necessary to undertake this development is $2,440,000. The request for on-going provincial operational funding is $1,940,000.