City says plywood it set up at Hamilton City Hall blocking homeless from hot air was done without permit

The city now says plywood it erected to block homeless people from hot air vents behind Hamilton City Hall was set up without a necessary building permit and using the wrong material. It has now been replace with more 'fire-resistant' material, it says.

'The City finds this completely regrettable,' says spokesperson

The plywood that was set up to block access to hot air vents behind Hamilton City Hall has been replaced with more fire-resistant material. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The city says plywood it erected to block homeless people from hot air vents behind Hamilton City Hall was set up without a necessary building permit and using the wrong material.

"After a review, it was determined that although the structure is safe, a miscommunication between departments led to an error related to materials and permitting," read a statement shared by Michelle Shantz, spokesperson for the city manager's office, Friday morning.

"The City finds this completely regrettable and appreciates we have to follow the same by-laws and policies, which are in place for the safety and well-being of the entire community," she added in an email.

Shantz said the review of the "temporary hoarding" follows concerns raised by members of the public and media about the safety of the structure after it appeared last weekend.

By Friday, the plywood had been replaced with another material.

The city estimates the construction costs to be about $20,000, with another $3,000 for an engineer to review the structure and evaluate air flow.

The city's statement comes as yet another cold alert has been issued for Hamilton and COVID-19 outbreaks continue at 10 of the city's shelters, accounting for 255 cases.

The plywood was set up to block access to the air from the vents, which some people were using to try and stay warm.

The city said it built the structure in response to "occupational health and safety, property maintenance and fire code" concerns. Shantz also pointed to "several incidents of violence and drug use" happening near the rear entrance, in her email.

The move drew criticism from some, including Dr. Tim O'Shea, who works with vulnerable populations in the city, including some who stay around city hall.

"The fact that people are [sleeping outside] and they are able to find some small amount of warmth from an air vent, which is then covered over … because people don't want to see them is very discouraging and disappointing," he said on Friday.

Anarchist website North Shore Counter-Info shared pictures Wednesday of people dismantling the structure and carrying the boards away.

The city said the hoarding was quickly replaced once it learned it had been taken down.

But now the city says its own review found a temporary building permit was needed and the plywood it used had to be replaced with material that has the "required fire resistance rating."

The structure allows the hot air to escape near the top. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Shantz said the city will now go about obtaining the necessary building permit to make sure the structure complies with the Ontario building code.

The building permit fee comes in at $265 and a risk management service claim added $697, along with an estimated $1,500 in staff costs for cleanup and general maintenance, she wrote in an email.

A heritage permit is not required, Shantz noted, as the hoarding isn't screwed into the building's facade.

Permit misses the point: local doctor

The city is also going ahead with plans to hire an engineering firm to review the structure to look for an alternative way to release the hot air.

In the meantime, Shantz said engineers have confirmed that the airflow and building are safe with the "current temporary hoarding in place."

O'Shea said that from his perspective focusing on the permit and materials misses the point.

Building the structure in the first place is comparable to when someone boards up a gap so critters can't get into their home, he said.

"It's just the fact that they are being extremely callous and … not recognizing the humanity of people who are sleeping outside and trying to get a bit of warmth," explained O'Shea.

"It's almost treating people like they're not human beings."

Cold alert issued

Environment Canada issued an extreme cold alert for Hamilton on Friday, warning the wind chill could make it feel between –30 C and –35 C.

The city's medical officer of health put a cold weather alert in place, cautioning residents that wind makes it feel colder and increases the risk of frostbite and hypothermia.

It said the city is in contact with organizations that work with vulnerable and homeless people and has opened up its warming centres.

Here's where people can warm up while the alert is in effect:

Bennetto Recreation Centre at 450 Hughson Street North, will be open overnight from 5 p.m. until noon.

The following sites will also operate as warming centres from noon to 7 p.m.

Some community organizations have also extended their hours to act as drop-in sites:

  • The Hub 78 Vine Street from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
  • Wesley Day Centre 52 Catherine Street North: Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Anyone who sees someone in need of shelter is asked to report their location to the Salvation Army by calling 905-527-1444 ext. 0.


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