City of Hamilton responds to ‘inhumane’ accusations against Good Shepherd women’s shelter

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Published April 19, 2022 at 6:35 pm

City of Hamilton responds to 'inhumane' accusations against Good Shepherd women's shelter
Shelter residents and advocates are calling on Good Shepherd and the City of Hamilton to address "dangerous, inhumane, and deteriorating conditions."

Residents of Cathedral Women’s Shelter are standing alongside advocates, calling on Good Shepherd and the City of Hamilton to “immediately address the dangerous, inhumane, and deteriorating conditions.”

Residents say their concerns have been ignored despite going through the Good Shepherd’s complaints process.

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Good Shepherd Hamilton did not respond to an email requesting a statement.

The City says it is aware of the complaints and is taking them seriously and say they’re working with Good Shepherd to address the complaints while investigating and reviewing operational details in an email.

“Providing healthy, safe and supportive emergency shelter environments for clients and ensuring access within the emergency shelter system continues to be a top priority for the City of Hamilton,” it said. “The City continues to monitor and respond to the issues that have been raised by clients and the community.”

Advocates, which include HamSmart, Hamilton Centre For Civic Inclusion (HCCI), and Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN), said Tuesday (Apr. 19) that residents have refused to drink the water at Cathedral Women’s Shelter due to concerns about lead, and have not been offered alternatives.

Advocates issued a series of questions in a media release, including “Why won’t the Good Shepherd release numbers on death and overdoses occurring inside Good Shepherd shelters, including Cathedral?”

The list of complaints from residents includes harsh temperatures inside the shelter and exposed asbestos.

“Exposed asbestos can be seen in the rooms posing a serious risk to the health of residents,” said HESN on behalf of residents.

“Without adequate climate control, and requests for space heaters ignored, temperatures inside the shelter dropped to 10 degrees over the winter. Residents were not offered any additional heating/warming supplies,” they added.

The City of Hamilton responded, saying Good Shepherd has conducted the required asbestos audit, “confirming asbestos is contained and dealt with appropriately.”

As for the temperatures, the City says it is “satisfied that Good Shepherd is taking steps to ensure clients are comfortable and has an operating heating system, is monitoring temperatures, and is offering extra blankets.”

The City says space heaters are not permitted in the rooms as a fire safety precaution.

The issue of overcrowded shelters has been exacerbated by the pandemic in Hamilton. Advocates say the overcrowding at Good Shepherd is especially prevalent.

“The initial floor plan indicated that only 48 women would be living at Good Shepherd’s cathedral women’s shelter,” HESN continued. “Why are there over 70 women currently living there? Why are there 6 residents confined to a room in the middle of a global pandemic? Where are residents supposed to isolate?”

The City said that “while this is a dormitory setting with four to six clients in a room, all clients are screened, the facility participates in COVID swabbing, rapid testing, and adheres to requirements such as masking.”

“The facility also has designated isolation spaces for those suspected of having COVID-19 and established protocols for positive cases and outbreaks,” the City said.

Advocates also claim that residents were told they weren’t allowed to attend a public virtual meeting on March 22 that directly pertained to the Cathedral Shelter facility.

It’s also alleged that mail was being withheld from residents, “which resulted in some of them not receiving correspondence from the Landlord Tenant Board,” that residents’ food is being handled by “uncertified staff,” and that their dietary restrictions and allergens are not being observed in the food preparation and distribution process.

When it comes to complaints about the shelter system in Hamilton, the City says it appreciates that there is room for improvement.

“As directed by Council, staff are developing a formal process for addressing complaints, concerns and questions about services and care provided within Hamilton’s emergency shelter system,” the City said. “This will come forward to the Emergency & Community Services Committee in the coming months.”

A media conference has been scheduled by HESN for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the shelter on 378 Main St. East in Hamilton. Residents and advocates are expected to be in attendance.

The former Cathedral school has been operating as a temporary overflow men’s shelter by Good Shepherd since July 2020, and as of Mar. 1, 2022, it has transitioned to a gender-specific shelter for women, trans-feminine, trans-masculine, and non-binary adults on a temporary basis.

Good Shepherd was given $550,000 by the City to renovate the space and $700,000 to operate it.

It has been slowly ramping up operations to accommodate up to 100 beds if required.

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