Hamilton issues 27 trespass notices at downtown Hamilton encampment


Published May 26, 2023 at 4:30 pm

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InTheHammer file photo

Growing health and safety concerns, including two recent assaults, have prompted city officials to issue 27 trespass notices to people at the encampment behind Hamilton City Hall.

It’s a measure that officials admit isn’t a solution to homelessness.

Unfortunately, it’s part of the issues we’re having with the city with respect to lack of affordable housing, really lack of housing overall,” said Michelle Baird, the city’s director of housing services, in a phone interview with inthehammer.com. “As a result of the health and safety issues, this was the step that had been taken.”

Municipal bylaw enforcement staff and Hamilton Police officers visited the site behind Whitehern Historic House and Gardens near City Hall on Thursday (May 25) to deliver the notices, which are effective immediately, according to Monica Ciriello, director of licensing and bylaw enforcement at the City of Hamilton.

Municipal staff initially gave people at the encampment voluntary compliance notices on May 4 due to health and safety concerns.

The city says its street outreach staff visited the Whitehern area about four to five times each week since March 1 to try to “engage with people living within an encampment to better understand their needs and connect them with internal and community supports,” according to an email sent by Ciriello to members of council informing them about the trespass notices Thursday.

“This is not a solution to homelessness. At the end of the day, the solution to homelessness is really housing, and unfortunately we don’t have adequate housing supply,” Baird said.

She noted that the men and women’s shelters are full, it’s “beyond capacity” for families, so they are using hotels as “overflow sites,” and there isn’t a shelter for couples. 

Baird said she wasn’t sure how many people were at the Whitehern encampment, since the numbers and people can change daily. She was also unsure if those who had received the notices had left, though she believes some have remained at the site.

Notice is ‘effective immediately’

“So, at this point because the notice is effective immediately, technically they can be removed from that site at any point thereafter,” she said. “So, that’s why right now we are on site from a housing perspective and really trying to help people understand that there’s potential they’re going to be moved, that they are trespassing right now, and it’s really important that we try our best to connect them with options and try to support them in moving their belongings and finding an alternative place to stay.”

To her knowledge, Baird said those notices at the encampment were the only ones that the city issued recently. However, the Hamilton Encampment Support Network tweeted that residents at “Woodlands Park, amongst other parks, have also received eviction notices over the last few days.”

Baird said the city’s outreach workers go to the Whitehern site four to five times a week trying to support the individuals by finding out about their situation, trying to connect them with shelters and services, and bringing food and water.

Advocate says city has failed to address affordable housing crisis

Gina Henry, who has been a homeless advocate for three years, has been part of a group bringing food to people in the encampments. She laughed at the notion of housing outreach staff trying to help people there.

“They’re evicting people from their homes without any compensation or any alternative places to go,” Henry said in a phone interview with inthehammer.com, noting the lack of affordable housing units and long waitlists in the city. “The city has closed more affordable housing units than they added in the last few years. No, they don’t have options available.”

The city also turned down options for a tiny home community, which would offer temporary housing to those in need similar to “A Better Tent City” in Kitchener, which provides 42 tiny homes and is seen as a successful model to address homelessness, Henry added. 

“I think it’s unfortunate that the encampment grew to that size and has problems that are present there, and I think council had the opportunity to sanction encampment sites,” said Ward  8 Councillor JohnPaul Danko in a phone interview with inthehammer.com.

He said passing an encampment protocol would’ve allowed “minor controls” at the sites.

“I think it’s really unfortunate council wasn’t able to reach compromise like that. This is the result of council’s decision and it’s unfortunate all around.” 

On May 17, city council rejected the latest encampment plan that would have allowed legal encampments in parks and on city-owned properties in Hamilton due to human rights concerns. 

Danko doesn’t agree with criticisms that the city isn’t doing enough to provide affordable housing.

“We’re making major investments on homelessness and supports for people,” he said. 

He added the encampment protocol is now undergoing further public consultations, and the city will have an updated recommendation in August.

“It’s just unfortunate that instead of accepting encampment recommendations, we have to wait until August,” he said.

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