'It's time to focus on solutions': Councillor calls for discussions aimed at ending encampments
Coun. Nrinder Nann says planning sessions would be about 'building unity'
Councillor Nrinder Nann is leading an effort to bring together city staff, advocates, experts and people who have been homeless, for discussions focused on ending encampments in Hamilton.
The Ward 3 representative brought a motion calling for a "human-rights based, health-focused" approach to housing before Hamilton's emergency and community services committee on Thursday. It passed unanimously and will now go to council to be ratified.
"It's about dignity, it's about humanity and it's about being responsive to the reality of what unhoused residents who have no other option but to live encamped are facing," said Nann.
The councillor said the city is facing multiple crises, including the pandemic, a shortage of affordable housing and toxic drugs that are killing people.
She pointed to a recent analysis from local doctors that found 19 homeless people had died in a six-month period, describing the figure as "heart-breaking."
"It's time to focus on solutions and to build unity in this city," said Nann.
Encampments have become more visible in Hamilton over the course of the pandemic. That visibility has brought with it debate over the city's approach of tearing down tents in public spaces, protests and even an attempt at a court injunction to block the city's bylaw.
Nann's motion states that an "enforcement-led response" to encampments won't solve homelessness or lead to healing.
Instead she's suggesting city housing staff host or facilitate planning sessions that will see representatives from the health sector, housing services, groups that provide frontline support and people who have lived in encampments around one table.
Costs for the session or sessions would be covered by the housing services budget and staff would be required to report back to the committee on any recommendations they arrive at.
Nann said her hope is that one or two focused days of planning would help the different parties involved in addressing the issue find consensus and a "made-in-Hamilton solution."
"It's about eradicating homelessness and getting rid of encampments by finding a housing solution that addresses the unique needs of those individuals," she said.
Ward. 6 Coun. Tom Jackson described that aim as "extremely noble" and said he would support the motion.
Coun. Jason Farr, who is not a member of the committee but attended Thursday's meeting, also voiced his support.
However, he stressed that Hamilton has long had a "housing-first" approach to homelessness and asked whether it would be worthwhile to have provincial representatives present as they're the ones who can provide health-related funding.
"Why not … actually say to the province 'You need to be here, because we've been saying this forever?'" he said. That way "our actionable items get the endorsement from the people who actually provide the resources to make it happen."
Nann suggested one session could be about bringing together different perspectives on encampments and working out solutions. Then a second meeting involving other levels of government could be held.
Edward John, Hamilton's director of housing services, said he was in favour of the idea of having a third-party facilitator lead the sessions as there would be "highly passionate voices around that table."
Having someone who doesn't work for the city run the meetings would help create a plan that can make meaningful change, John said, especially with the arrival of spring when encampments tend to appear more often.
Hamilton city council's next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 19.