Ahead of cold snap, Hamilton coalition calls for support of houseless residents

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Published January 13, 2022 at 6:31 pm

A coalition in Hamilton is calling for expressions of interest in developing rapid shelter solutions ahead of a cold snap this weekend — while also calling on the city to better support unhoused people.

Overnight lows of -17 C are forecast this weekend in Hamilton, and shelters are apparently not accepting new people due to COVID-19 outbreaks. (An outbreak at Good Shepherd Women’s Services has grown to 16 people.) As a response, the Just Recovery Hamilton Coalition says an “all of community” approach is needed to serve the most volunerable population. The JHRC is asking residents and businesses who are moved to help to contact the Hamilton Community Benefits Network (HCBN).

“Community groups across the province have found innovative ways to collaborate and provide heated indoor spaces in non-congregate settings to keep un-housed people safe,” said Tom Cooper, who is the director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction “In Kitchener, that approach includes a community of tiny cabins with wrap-around supports that now houses close to fifty people on property co-owned by the City of Kitchener and the school board. We can, and must act to protect our community’s most vulnerable residents this winter.”

The group noted that the two-year COVID-19 pandemic and the latest highly virulent Omicron variant have increased the strain on support services in the community.

The Just Recovery coalition, which formed in November 2020, has asked the city’s leadership to adopt a ‘Housing is a Human Right’ approach. Since the start of September, the city has reverted to a pre-pandemic enforcement of a no-camping bylaw that allows for the removal of shelters people have built.

Also, a recent analysis by doctors in the city found that 19 unhoused people had died over a six-month period.

“The compounding crises of cold, COVID and an overcapacity shelter system have created a life-threatening situation in an already challenged system,” said Karl Andrus of HCBN. “Frontline workers are fighting to service a population that even in the best of times struggles to find support in our overburdened housing and care system. Without imminent investment from the City of Hamilton in emergency support for houseless neighbours, I fear more will die.”

Calls from the group issued to the city on Thursday include:

  • Providing isolation centres for houseless residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • An increase in public health staff to address this urgent crisis
  • Provide and expand warming centres for houseless residents looking for a place to stay warm as a cold-weather advisory is expected this weekend.
  • Consulting with local interested employers to explore collaborative solutions to expanding temporary shelters into currently under-utilized workplaces where possible. With many organizations working fully remotely or at significantly reduced operating capacity, there exist a wide variety of tentative locations that can ought to be mobilized into temporary shelter overflow spaces in concert with Hamilton Public Health and local service providers. This could result in the rapid deployment of dozens of additional temporary shelters for our most vulnerable residents at a dire time.
  • Adequately staffing all warming and isolation centres to deliver safe supply and accessibility policies around harm reduction
  • Immediately and permanently lift all service restrictions

In the meantime, anyone able to support the efforts of Just Recovery coalition, HCBN and partnered groups should reach out via e-mail at [email protected]

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