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Hamilton councillors vote to adopt revised encampment protocol – Hamilton


A majority of Hamilton councillors have given initial approval to an encampment protocol calling for a mini homes pilot project and provisions for public washroom and shower facilities for those who are unhoused.

The debate about where, how many and how close tent communities can be in the community pushed Monday’s general issues committee meeting (GIC) into a 12-hour venture spurred by an amendment to prohibit encampments unless ward councillors explicitly permit it.

The motion moved by Ward 5 Coun. Matt Francis and Ward 10 Coun. Jeff Beattie put the meeting into an in-camera session at one point as city politicians sought legal advice.

That concern was over a pending lawsuit with unhoused residents arguing eviction from parks violates their Charter rights.

“This protocol in this current form will allow this chaos to continue unless seriously amended,” Francis argued.

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“Encampments and drugs do not belong in our parks (where) children play. Parks are off limits, full stop.”

Support for the amendment also came from Ward 6 Coun. Tom Jackson, who couldn’t back the idea of allowing encampments in public parks.

As of June, city staff say more than 1,700 people were without a home in Hamilton.

The encampment protocol suggests a minimum of six sites be set aside to accommodate 160 individuals currently unsheltered in Hamilton.

Alexander Park, Strachan Avenue Linear Park, the east side of Woodlands Park, Confederation Park, the north side of Mohawk Sports Park, north of the ballpark at Turner Park and the north side of Valley Park were identified as potential usable spaces.

Permanent washrooms, drinking water, hydro connections and waste management were primary criteria when city staff picked the sites.

Housing director Michelle Baird acknowledged there is a bylaw that prohibits tenting in parks but suggested some sort of balance would be needed to meet the needs of those who are unsheltered.

“Recognizing that even if today we were in a place where we didn’t allow tents in parks, I can assure you that we likely would have tents in parks because people don’t have opportunities and other places they can go,” Baird said.

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Francis and Beattie’s motion would ultimately be voted down after a number of city politicians characterized the recommendation as divisive, including Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann.

This opt-in, opt-out language is purposeful to break the approach of this term of council to tackle the complex issues as a council of the whole,” Nann said.

Ward 2 Coun. Cameron Kroetsch was one of the councillors who voted in favour of the protocol, which puts the HATS site on the north end of his ward.

Kroestch said he trusted the “professional recommendation” from the city staff.

The protocol was the result of a public consultation over the spring and summer garnering some 12,000 responses and 16,000 comments via a web campaign.

If approved, up to five tents will be allowed on public land as long as they’re not within 100 metres of playgrounds, schools and other sensitive uses and meet certain health and safety requirements.

Public works is expected to provide security and respond to requests for cleanup and maintenance, while the healthy and safe communities department will deploy peer support workers.

Mayor Andrea Horwath said the city will continue work on ending the need for encampments via “ongoing advocacy” for proper housing with funding from the provincial and federal governments.

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She acknowledges the protocol “is not a solution” to the crisis fuelled by affordability concerns and loss of affordable housing.

“The reality is all of our systems are in crisis right now, and so people are therefore in crisis, ” said Horwath.

“I think we all know that encampments are not the answer, but dismantling them is not the answer either.”

The protocol, approved by councillors 10 to six, now moves on to a ratification vote at city council Friday.

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