Hamilton doctors, lawyers urge city to allow homeless encampments


Published July 30, 2020 at 3:20 pm

It’s a classic case of bylaw versus compassion in Hamilton’s battle over downtown homeless encampments.

It’s a classic case of bylaw versus compassion in Hamilton’s battle over downtown homeless encampments.

Dozens of tents have popped up during the pandemic, which some councillors say has led to constituent complaints about trash, noise, violence, and public substance use.

From a bylaw standpoint, it’s clear: You can’t camp on Hamilton public property indefinitely.

However, these aren’t clear times. They’re desperate and uncertain.

A coalition that includes the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team (HAMSMaRT), Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, Ross & McBride LLP, and Keeping Six, a social medicine response team, is urging the city not to clear away encampments unless they are “able to provide encampment residents with access to safe indoor spaces and interim to permanent housing with the appropriate supports”.

HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six say they were notified by city staff of their plan to dismantle the encampments at the First Ontario Centre and the Ferguson Street encampment on Friday (July 31).

“This order to dismantle the encampments comes as a surprise to a coalition of social service and outreach workers, physicians, lawyers and community allies,” reads the letter.

The group is urging residents to “call or write to your councillor today asking that”:

  1. The City not dismantle homeless encampments
  2. The City provide interim and permanent housing for encampment residents with necessary supports
  3. The City prioritize individuals experiencing homelessness for urgent housing placement
  4. The City engage encampment residents in assessing their needs prior to dismantling
  5. The City remove barriers in shelters and hotels in order to accommodate the individual needs of encampment residents
  6. The City allow for sanctioned encampment sites and/or designate specific parks/public lands where individuals are allowed to set up tents/temporary structures
  7. The City allow for a streamlined, low-barrier, accessible process of issuing permits allowing for tents and temporary structures

“Dismantling homeless encampments will cause harm to encampment residents and this harm is heightened by the current pandemic,” concludes the letter.

“We need you to call on your local city councillor to take a holistic and reasoned approach to encampments”.

Some councillors have been more clear than others on their desire to have the tents removed.

A copy and paste of an alleged email from Ward 2’s Jason Farr concludes, “To sum up, I am supportive of dismantling the tents and if staff do not act soon, I will have Council order it”.

Wade Poziomka, of Ross & McBride LLP, has been vocal in his support of the encampments as long as there are no safer alternatives.

“…laws and bylaws can sometimes lead to unfair results and cause harm,” he said in a news release. 

“That is precisely why staff have discretion in enforcing these bylaws. To simply point to a bylaw and say it must be enforced, despite the harm, shows frightening lack of understanding of municipal governance.”

Meanwhile, Ward 14 councillor Terry Whitehead engaged on Twitter with Dr. Robin Lennox, who has been a Family Physician and Assistant Professor with the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster University.

City staff, meanwhile, said there is no plan in place to clear people out.

The coalition group, meanwhile, anticipates its application for an injunction on any removal of the encampments will be before a Superior Court judge on Thursday (July 30).

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