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The Encampment Protocol

August 19, 2023

On August 18, 2023, Hamilton City Council ratified an Encampment Protocol ("The Protocol"). In this statement, I outline my perspective on The Protocol and what it means for Hamilton.

 

Encampments exist in Hamilton today and will continue to be with us for the foreseeable future. The lack of housing and its consequences have had an impact right across the City, so it is important for us all to understand the current circumstances and why the City is implementing an Encampment Protocol. To put it simply, The Protocol brings structure to this very challenging situation by setting expectations for where encampments can exist (e.g. at least 100m from playgrounds), how the City will continue to provide a housing-first approach to homelessness, and how the City will strive to meet residents’ expectations for a clean and safe city.

 

We can all likely agree that we want a sufficient supply of affordable housing, not encampments. Encampments are not the answer for those without homes and they are not the answer for Hamilton neighbourhoods. The City of Hamilton is focused on the long-term goal of creating housing, but in the meantime, we need to bring some structure to how the housed and the unhoused can coexist.

 

I have observed some positioning of The Protocol as 'Council is now allowing encampments', or 'tents are now allowed in parks' which is unfortunate and inaccurate. Encampments already exist in many public spaces, including parks, and over the past few years many forces have combined to exacerbate the difficulties faced by our City and many of our neighbours creating a much more visible impact across the City.

  

The Protocol determines what is required to be a compliant site (e.g. where a tent(s) can be located and the standards they must maintain), but it does not establish sanctioned sites, which would be larger (i.e. 25 to 50 tents), more permanent sites, with onsite services. The protocol we have ratified is most certainly imperfect, but it is a necessary step so that we have common expectations of how we will live together. In the eyes of some, these guidelines are too lenient. In the eyes of others, they are too restrictive. Given the nature of this topic, it is impossible for the City to implement a solution that will be broadly accepted by all. So, we are left with the need to establish a protocol that finds as much balance as possible across the needs of all Hamiltonians.

 

THE PROTOCOL

Prior to this new protocol, Hamilton lacked structure on how encampments could exist in our City. The Protocol provides clarity and structure enabling City staff to better assist the unhoused and to uphold the expectations of how encampments will exist across our City until we can provide sufficient affordable housing.

 

The Encampment Protocol:

  • Prioritizes housing-first solutions and the dignity of unhoused people.

  • Creates a process for unhoused individuals to be voluntarily assessed for individual housing situations and needs, so they can be connected to any desired housing resources and supports

  • Creates a centralized process for members of the public to share concerns regarding encampments through a coordinated response team that can be reached at unsheltered@hamilton.ca or 905-546-2828

  • Creates a clear process for the handling of complaints, including a 72-hour response time.

  • Creates a clear process and timeline for the removal of encampments that have been abandoned.

  • Creates clear parameters for health and safety violations and Animal Services concerns.

  • Confirms that encampments on private property are the responsibility of property owners and that in cases where consent has not been obtained, trespass reports should be made to Hamilton Police Services.

  • Prevents the use of campfires and barbecues.

  • Prevents more than 5 tents in any one location.

  • Specifies prohibited areas for erecting tents including:

    • Within 100 metres of a school or childcare centre, playground, pool, waterpark or spray pad;

    • Within 50 metres of lake, beach, pond or body of water, or sports field;

    • Within 50 metres of the Tiny Shelters pilot site;

    • Within 5 metres of any transit stop, heritage site or property with an environmental designation;

    • Within fenced in, off-leash dog areas;

    • Cemeteries;

    • Community gardens;

    • Pathways, sidewalks, parking lots, under bridges;

    • Within fire or emergency routes or entrances or blocking fire hydrants;

    • On or blocking accessibility ramps;

    • Areas susceptible to environmental hazards including flooding and erosion;

    • Attached to any building or permanent structure.

 

The new protocol and associated funding also mean that the City will:

  • Provide washroom and shower access for unsheltered individuals at two sites that will be provided with 24-hour, on-site security, and at two recreation facilities for 12 hours daily;

  • Increase the city’s ability to respond to public complaints through additional Municipal By-law Enforcement;

  • Increase the cleanup of parks and public spaces, and accelerate response times;

  • Provide peer support workers to support unhoused individuals as needed, with a focus on harm reduction;

  • Create a Liaison Committee to ensure that individuals with lived experience are providing input into Hamilton’s encampment response;

 

Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS)

The Protocol ratified on Aug 18, 2023, also included direction for City staff to enter into an agreement with the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters to operate a 2-year pilot for a maximum of 25 homes on city lands (Strachan Linear Park between James St N and Hughson) on the condition that:

 

  • No tents are allowed within 50 metres of this site;

  • The location is operated with appropriate security, services and supports, and at no cost to the City;

  • Residents are assigned from the City’s By-Name List with the goal of moving individuals and couples out of encampments and into a transition toward permanent housing

  • Have clear success measurements and monitoring processes;

  • There is a clear and detailed exit strategy should HATS not be able to ensure site safety or adequate funding.

 

 

The City of Hamilton’s Focus on Housing

The solution to eliminating encampments is more housing. Today, we don’t have enough affordable housing in Hamilton. Creating more housing is a top priority for the City. Here are some of the many steps we are taking:

 

  • In 2023, there was a 70% increase in the Housing Services Division’s budget over 2022. Investments across the housing continuum included:

    • An additional $4 million for affordable housing initiatives to help enable non-profit development and acquisition of affordable housing.

    • A $1.1 million top-up in rent supplements and operating subsidies to social housing providers to keep affordable units on the market.

    • $550,000 in cost-of-living adjustments for community shelters funded through additional provincial investments in the Homelessness Prevention Program.

    • $2.6 million to enhance staffing and services at the YWCA Transitional Living Program, a 65-bed facility that offers transitional housing for up to two years for women.

 

  • An additional $22M of funding for Housing Services was approved in 2023 and is being funded from reserves.

 

  • There are three City Housing Hamilton developments underway right now. To my knowledge, this is the first time this has occurred and highlights how Hamilton is responding with urgency. These sites are Bay/Cannon, King William and at the Queenston Traffic Circle.

 

 

Answers to questions my office has received from the public

 

  1. Who will be enforcing the conditions that have been laid out in the Encampment Protocol?

 

Following our housing-first approach, Housing Outreach workers will be the first contact with unsheltered individuals. The Protocol encourages voluntary compliance, but failure to comply will be escalated to Municipal Law Enforcement and, if necessary, to Hamilton Police Services.

 

   2. What will be done about people using drugs/needles or smoking in public spaces?

 

Hamilton Police Services will investigate reports of unlawful activity and have the authority to enforce these laws. Anyone smoking in public parks can be issued a fine by Municipal Law Enforcement.

 

   3. How will fire safety be enforced?

 

Barbecues, campfires and open-air burning are regulated by Section 14 of the Parks By-Law 01-219 and Open-Air Burning By-Law 02-283 and will be enforced by MLE.  This applies to all individuals using city parks.

 

   4. How will public spaces be kept clean?

 

Maintaining the cleanliness of public spaces is part of The Protocol. Human waste has been a common complaint. 24/7 access to washrooms will be provided in two city parks, and shower and washroom facilities will be provided at two recreation facilities for 12 hours daily.  Each facility with showers will provide hygiene and sundry supplies. These locations have not yet been determined.  Peer support workers will also assist to help residents of these spaces to take on responsibility for clean up themselves. The Protocol also contains funding for an “enhanced service level" to allow Parks staff to better respond to requests for clean-up and maintenance. This service will be enabled by additional staffing and appropriate equipment.

 

   5. Are the 5m, 50m, 100m distances specified in The Protocol being marked so the people responsible for enforcing the restrictions will know if it is violated?

No. There will be no permanent marking of distances in public spaces. MLE staff will have the tools and training required to understand and enforce the distances established in The Protocol.

   6. What is the cost to Taxpayers for Policing when in violation of restrictions?

 

There is existing funding for two encampment-response police officers who will continue in their roles as part of The Protocol.

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