The City of Hamilton and local homelessness advocates have reached a deal in a legal dispute over the city’s homeless encampments.
Earlier this summer, advocates were able to obtain an injunction against the dismantling of several so-called ‘tent cities’ that have popped up across Hamilton.
In a press release issued Wednesday (Sept. 30), the City and advocates from Keeping Six and HAMSMaRT said they will be appearing “together before the Superior Court to confirm the lifting of the July 30 injunction and withdrawal of the application which challenged City by-laws.”
Since the pandemic forced the closure of a number of public spaces and social services, tent communities have been popping up in parts of the city.
Several of them were dismantled by the city earlier this spring/early summer. In the wake of those, homelessness advocates pushed for a more human-rights based approach to addressing the unique housing needs of the encampment’s residents.
In many cases, they argued, the current options available to those sleeping rough on Hamilton’s streets aren’t accommodating to people living with addictions or mental health concerns.
In Wednesday’s announcement, however, the City says they were able to come to terms with advocates and devise new protocols for helping encampment residents find housing.
“Both parties agree that encampments are a symptom of a housing crisis that is national in scope and that tents are not a solution to the housing challenges many experience,” the news release said.
“The agreement calls for the advocates and the City to continue engaging with provincial health authorities to help people who need more support than municipal shelter and outreach efforts can offer.”
Data provided by the City of Hamilton suggests that those with higher, complex needs make up between 25 and 30 per cent of the city’s homeless population.
“Both parties agree that supporting these individuals into long-term shelter solutions is a process that requires patience, persistence and person-centred engagement,” reads the release.
“The City has thus committed to a personalized approach to enforcement of the bylaws as it relates to people with complex needs.”
There is no timeline for the removal of the encampments but under the new protocols, those that the City’s Encampment Taskforce engage with will be given a 14-day grace period in which supports will be provided and a housing plan developed for the individual.
“The City remains committed to helping people experiencing homelessness find safer and more humane housing options and to ensure our public spaces remain safe and accessible to all residents of Hamilton who collectively own them,” said Mayor Fred Eisenberger in a statement.
“While this agreement paves the way for the removal of encampments, it does not diminish the lasting experiences for citizens living near them and we thank them for their patience.”
As part of the new protocols, individuals experiencing homelessness shall be offered an assessment using the Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VISPDAT) tool for a determination of acuity, which will be carried out by the City’s Mental Health Street Outreach Program.
This tool will help the task force assess the specific needs and available services for homeless individuals and will help guide their ‘personalized’ approach to helping them find housing or shelter.
Keeping Six and HAMSMaRT are pleased to have had the opportunity to work with the City to come to an agreement that recognizes the challenges that the people we love and care for face in accessing shelter and housing,” said Dr. Jill Wiwcharuk and Lisa Nussey in a joint statement.
“We look forward to putting this legal battle behind us and moving forward in supporting people who use drugs and those experiencing homelessness.”