Hamilton

Council endorses plan to bring together experts, homeless residents to find encampment solutions

Council has approved plans to set up a roundtable discussion that will bring together experts, front-line workers and people who have been homeless, with the goal of finding gaps in service and ending encampments in Hamilton.

Director of housing says discussion will help 'create buy-in,' work toward solutions

As encampments have become more prominent in Hamilton during the pandemic, so has the discussion over the city's approach of tearing down tents. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Council has approved plans to set up a roundtable discussion that will bring together experts, front-line workers and people who have been homeless, with the goal of finding gaps in service and ending encampments in Hamilton.

A motion from Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann calling for a "human-rights based, health-focused" approach to housing was ratified during council's meeting on Wednesday.

Edward John, the city's director of housing, described the proposed session as a way to review the city's plans, "create buy-in" and "look with a critical eye to make sure everybody understands what we're trying to achieve for the folks we can help."

While the city and current council have taken steps to address homelessness in Hamilton, more can be done to address its "ballooning" capacity issues, said John.

"Capacity creation is not the solution. It is managing homelessness. It is not ending homelessness... We need to pivot. We need to get people housed."

Encampments have become a topic of debate in Hamilton over the course of the pandemic.

As they've become more prominent, so has the discussion over the city's approach of tearing down tents in public spaces. It's led to protests, arrests and even an attempt at a court injunction to block the city's bylaw.

Nann's motion was first discussed at last week's emergency and community services committee.

It states that an "enforcement-led response" to encampments won't solve homelessness or lead to healing.

Instead she suggested city housing staff organize a planning session that would bring together representatives from the health sector, housing services, groups that provide frontline support and people who have lived in encampments.

The goal is to find gaps in the services that are being provided and to make sure the people working with Hamilton's homeless community can be heard in order to make sure "the system is at full speed and we are supporting it as best we can," Nann said on Wednesday.

Housing is the priority

While all councillors voted in favour, some raised reservations.

Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr and Mayor Fred Eisenberger both referenced council's past efforts around housing and underlined the need for buy-in from the provincial government in order to secure funding.

Eisenberger said he didn't expect to "learn anything dramatic" during the session, adding "I'm not sure it's going to achieve anything we don't already know."

The mayor also said he met this week with Michael Tibollo, Ontario's associate minister of mental health and addictions, to propose a joint housing and mental health envelope with $5 million in funding that would go toward housing and homelessness. According to the mayor, the funding would help around 100 people in need of high-acuity care.

John said he believes the discussion proposed in Nann's motion would have value, particularly as the city looks toward recovery following COVID-19.

"The priority is housing folks as quickly and as best we can as a means to overcome this horrendous pandemic."

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