Hamilton city councillor tells housing advocate, ‘take an addict and put it in your backyard in a tent.’
Published December 8, 2021 at 9:34 pm
Ward 14 city councillor Terry Whitehead was muted at a meeting for debating a housing advocate, whom he suggested should “take an addict and put it in your backyard in a tent.”
During a City of Hamilton general issues committee of Wednesday (Dec. 8), councillors heard a delegation from area resident James Lambert, who called on them to halt encampment evictions of unhoused people. Lambert said he had been present on Nov. 24 at J.C. Beemer Park in central Hamilton, when unhoused residents living there were forced by Hamilton police and city workers to leave after a fire.
Six housing advocates, five of whom are Black, were arrested by Hamilton police either at Beemer or at the Central Police Station two days later. Ontario’s police watchdog has also launched an investigation since one of the advocates, 24-year-old Rowa Mohamad, was seriously injured after a police officer knelt on her head and neck on the sidewalk outside the station. Dozens of advocacy groups have called for the charges to be dropped and for a judicial inquiry to be ordered.
Wednesday’s meeting contained several delegations critical of the city for removing unhoused people, without offering long-term solutions. Lambert’s delegation occurred around the five-hour, 38-minute mark of what became a 10-hour-plus meeting.
An individual who is presenting to a committee has five minutes to speak, and then councillors can ask questions. Ward 6 Coun. Tom Jackson, who was chairing the meeting, warned Whitehead — whose pay was recently docked for bullying a city staff member at a meeting in September 2020 — to ask Lambert questions instead of debating.
Nevertheless, Whitehead persisted.
The 18-year councillor suggested he would “start an Adopt-a-Tent program for those in encampments and list addresses of those who endorse them being in parks next to kids, and ask those people — you — to take one of those individuals in encampments and put them in a tent in your backyard. And they can use your propane, too.”
Lambert did not take the bait, replying: “City council has the power and the means to provide housing to people. That’s unambiguous.
The full exchange went as follows:
WHITEHEAD: Boy, I’d love to debate this guy — but I won’t, um.
WHITEHEAD: Yes, yes. The question I have is, do you live in a home?
LAMBERT: I do.
WHITEHEAD: You, you, have a pro tank— have a propane tank?
LAMBERT: And a barbecue, yeah.
WHITEHEAD: Perfect. I have a truck. So I’m going to start an Adopt-a-Tent program for those in encampments and list addresses of those who endorse them being in parks next to kids, and ask those people — you — to take one of those individuals in encampments and put them in a tent in your backyard. And they can use your propane, too.
LAMBERT: I think it might startle you to discover that responsibility comes proportionate to power. You’re a city councillor. I’m a citizen. Let’s not turn this around and pretend it’s the responsibility of citizens to exert themselves. We already exert ourselves to support our community members. City council has the power and the means to provide housing to people. That’s unambiguous.
All right, that should seem perfectly clear to me. This NIMBY-ism — ‘you wouldn’t want unhoused people in your backyard, you wouldn’t want unhoused people next to your tent’ — is obfuscating the issue. Which is: in a city of empty buildings and houses, we have people living in tents that the city destroyed, leaving them with nothing. That’s not ambiguous.
JACKSON: Councillor Whitehead and James, I’m sensing a debate here. And I don’t want a debate.
WHITEHEAD: I’m not debating. I’m offering up a solution, I mean it.
JACKSON: I don’t want a solution — I want a question.
WHITEHEAD: I want a list. Every, every, every individual who wants to go and get involved with the police and prevent these things from happening, just sign up and take an addict and put it in your backyard in a tent.
JACKSON: Councillor Whitehead, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, that’s not a question, and you have been muted.
Lambert noted during his delegation that none of the people who were displaced at J.C. Beemer Park two weeks ago are confirmed to have been housed. One person has been staying with housing advocates, including some of the ones who facing charges of assaulting and/or obstructing police officers.
He suggested Hamilton’s local government was “could be expropriating vacant buildings” in order to provide more permanent shelter for vulnerable people.
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