Hamilton

Hamilton will spend $400K on new enforcement staff to deal with encampments

Hamilton city council has agreed to speed up encampment evictions, committing $416,673.73 to hire four bylaw officers to remove tents from parks “within 12 to 72 hours” of the first complaint to city staff, seven days a week.

The city will hire 4 bylaw officers to help evict encampment residents within 12 to 72 hours

Hamilton city council voted Wednesday to end encampments in city parks within 12 to 72 hours, adding four new bylaw staff to do the job. (CBC)

Hamilton city council has agreed to speed up encampment evictions, committing $416,673.73 to hire four bylaw officers to remove tents from parks "within 12 to 72 hours" of the first complaint to city staff, seven days a week.

The decision followed a successful planning committee motion from Ward 2 (downtown) councillor Jason Farr last week, formalizing a timeline for encampment evictions.

Council voted 11-4 to move forward Wednesday, with those opposed saying it was the wrong approach. Council also voted to establish an encampment coordination team to manage work on encampments being done by various city departments, with an estimated cost of $305,000. 

In an impassioned speech, Farr said the decision to move quickly on encampments is essential to bring Hamilton in line with other cities and prevent it from becoming a destination for people looking to camp in parks.

Farr also said that despite the vocal opposition to the bill from delegates at last week's planning committee meeting, his motion protects a silent majority of residents and businesses who feel scared of encampments, or frustrated by the garbage and late-night noise that have come along with some encampment sites.

"The other side of this argument gets a lot of play in mainstream media and social media," Farr told council on Wednesday. "But the list [of concerned citizens who have reached out to complain] is growing exponentially."

"What I am not hearing are other options… We let this go and we become the only city in Ontario that allows this."

'Complex circumstances'

Coun. Nrinder Nann (Ward 3, central lower city), meanwhile, was one of four councillors opposed.

During the meeting, she decried comments from some others on council that she believed demonized encampment residents, instead of treating them with compassion.

"The truth of the matter is encampment residents are also peaceful, law-abiding citizens that are dealing with a complex set of circumstances," she said, noting council just recently approved a motion to bring together experts to develop a response to encampments based on health and human rights.

"You don't respond to a system in crisis with enforcement. You respond with investment in the outcomes [that everyone wants to see]," she said. 

The city currently knows of about 25 encamped residents, but staff said Wednesday that as the weather gets warmer, they expect that number to rise. 

No capacity for families or couples

Edward John, director of housing services, says there is currently no capacity for families or couples in the shelter system, but between 15 and 20 spaces each in the men's and women's systems.

He explained that even when there is space available, some people can't access it due to issues such as having a pet, or having had past behavioural issues at the shelter that can lead to barred access.

Coun. Judi Partridge (Ward 15, Flamborough) said the city needs a better plan to address homelessness than to simply give up and allow people to camp.

"This issue is not going anywhere. It's only going to get worse," she said. "Let's support his pilot and give the extra staff that are needed and help these people in the parks… I don't understand the pushback. We can not have people continue to be living in parks. It's not healthy."

Both John and Angela Burden, general manager of healthy and safe communities, said much investment is required to get Hamilton to a place where encampments aren't an issue. Burden described a housing system on the edge, where most staffers have been in "emergency response" mode during much of the pandemic. 

'A system in crisis'

"We do not have enough housing," she said. "We do not have enough beds. That is not a reflection of the housing outreach team. It's a reflection of a system in crisis."

Burden said staff members are working on a plan to deal with the issue more holistically, but John noted it will require funding to make it happen.

"Whether it's encampments or shelters, those aren't the solution," he said. "We have to foster an environment where we have a healthy housing solution. The dollars are few and the need is high."

Both votes – to enshrine the timeline and to commit money for enforcement staff – passed 11 to four, with Mayor Fred Eisenberger and councillors Maureen Wilson (Ward 1, west end), Nann, and John-Paul Danko (Ward 8, west Mountain) in opposition.

Eisenberger said he didn't support committing the money outside the budget process, which just wrapped up on Wednesday, while being one of several to note that moving people out of parks does nothing to solve homelessness. 

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