After seven hours of debate, several delegations and a confused final vote, Hamilton City Councillors by a wide margin turned down a proposal to allow dedicated encampment sites. It was not a show of unity, however, as the staff proposal was hated by homeless supporters and encampment opponents alike. To delegates from Hamsmart, an organization of health providers promoting social justice, the proposal by staff failed to address the human aspect of the homeless problem. One of the delegates said, she didn’t want to hang city staff out to dry in drafting the proposed policy, but that was more or less the tone of the discussion. Similarly, some members of council said the proposal contained too many restrictions about where the encampments could be located, how far they could be from playgrounds and other public amenities; although the language of the report seemed to point to city parks as likely sites. On the other side came objections about the encampments being allowed in public parks at all. Councillor Matt Francis at one point suggested councillors who favour encampments should consider signing up for taking in a homeless person or allowing a tent on their property.
What was left after council turned down the proposal to allow designated encampments was a decision to have staff report more fully on how encampments work in other communities. For their part councillors will have until the end of June to get feedback from constituents on the proposal by staff. Councillor Brad Clark in particular said he was very uncomfortable going ahead with any encampment policy that had no public feedback. Some councillors appeared to be against a wide-open public feedback process, perhaps anticipating a strong public general antipathy to encampments if the public were allowed to weigh in unfiltered.
The only agreement was that provision of housing is the real solution and Hamilton simply does not possess enough shelter space to accommodate all the homeless individuals. A recent court ruling regarding Kitchener’s encampment problem ruled that camps cannot be broken up unless there is alternative housing available and that is a major consideration for other communities like Hamilton that potentially limits their courses of action. Clark hoped some of that information could be shared with the public before their opinions were unleashed during the consultation process. Mention was made of the City of London which has established hard encampments using construction trailers complete with bathroom and shower facilities, but staff pointed out that solution was only made possible by an anonymous donation of 25 million dollars.
It looks like a final decision on encampments may not come until August.
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