Here's how much the city says it cost to maintain large tent encampments

In a new report, the City of Hamilton says it spent $60,000 per month on security and waste collection at the encampments and over $130,000 on legal services related to an injunction that blocked the city from taking tents down.

"It demonstrates how expensive homelessness truly is," says Hamsmart doctor

A new report outlines how much it cost the city to respond to large encampments of people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The City of Hamilton says it spent around $60 thousand per month on security and waste collection to maintain the larger downtown encampment sites that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It spent $133,919 on external legal services related to a superior court injunction that temporarily blocked the city from dismantling the tents.

The new report going before the city's general issues committee on Wednesday outlines what the city says it cost to respond to encampments at FirstOntario Centre and Ferguson Avenue North. 

The Hamilton Paramedic Service, waste removal and security services had increases in demand and expenses, the report said.

Dr. Jill Wiwcharuk, a member of Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team (Hamsmart), said the one thing people should take away from the report is that it shows the price of homelessness. 

"It demonstrates how expensive homelessness truly is," she said. "It will always be cheaper for all levels of government to get individuals into affordable housing than to keep them homeless."

Hamsmart, along with Keeping Six, the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic and Ross and McBride LLP, filed a court injunction that prevented the city from tearing down the encampments. The injunction came into effect on July 30 and was lifted on Oct. 7. 

"From the minute the injunction was granted on July 30, we were asking the city to come to the table to negotiate a settlement," Wiwcharuk said.  "These overtures were ignored for weeks. It wasn't until the end of September that the city finally agreed to negotiate with us. Seeing as we came to an agreement in four days, it is clear that the city is responsible for having it last as long as it did." 

The city reached an agreement with the organizations, saying it would do a needs assessment of people sleeping rough in exchange for their taking the tents down. 

Wiwcharuk has worked with those experiencing homelessness for over 10 years. She was caring for those at the FirstOntario site, which included giving prenatal care to people before they delivered their babies. Wiwcharuk was also at the Ferguson site helping people through the situation when the camps were being dismantled. 

Paramedic calls

The report included data related to Hamilton paramedics, who received 275 calls to the FirstOntario Centre encampment between April 1, 2020 and Aug. 26, 2020. That was up 86 per cent compared to last year, the report said.

There were 81 other calls to the Ferguson Avenue North encampment between July 1, 2020 and Aug. 26, 2020, which the city said was up 13 per cent.

Wiwcharuk said that there's not a valuable comparison for the data.

"There are no numbers for previous paramedic calls to encampments during a global pandemic that is directly responsible for an increasingly poisonous drug supply and a lack of access to [naloxone] and both social and health supports," she said. 

The housing division said it allocated money for a full-time supervisor and two full-time outreach staff. It projects the cost for the supervisor to be $106,136 by June 2021 and for the two other positions at $96,264.

Other workers in its healthy and safe communities and public works departments assisted, meaning a "shift in focus" the city said, though not necessarily an increase in spending. 

17 people from encampments housed, city says

The city has worked on increasing emergency shelter options, street outreach intervention resources, and the prioritizing of people in encampments for "permanent housing and intensive case management support programs," it said.

The housing services division engaged with 378 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, it said, and helped 241 people move to safe sheltered locations. Seventeen people from encampments were housed between April and September, the report said. 

There continues to be a need for a permanent supportive housing intervention that would combine housing, intensive case management and clinical health services to help people experiencing chronic homelessness, the report said. 

City staff are "in talks with the province, the Hamilton Health Team, and community agencies" to explore options, it said. Staff will advocate for funding from different levels of government.