Housing crisis

The wave of COVID-19 and winter conditions have worsened the housing crisis in Hamilton

C/O Gustavo Sanchez

Amid the cold and the high number of COVID-19 cases, the city of Hamilton failed to protect and accommodate its homeless residents

January 2022 has been a difficult month for the City of Hamilton, with temperatures plunging as low as -20 degrees Celsius and hundreds of Hamilton residents hospitalized with COVID-19. Unfortunately, low temperatures and high rates of COVID-19 have created even more barriers for Hamilton’s homeless population.

“What we have observed as COVID continues and the cold weather continues is simply the lack of empathy and the lack of tangible sustainable solutions [from the city]”,

Koubra Haggar, Steering Committee Member of the Hamilton Encampment Support Network.

HESN is an entirely volunteer-run advocacy group and support network in the Hamilton community. They advocate for the needs of homeless residents of Hamilton and provide homeless people with support and resources.

Vic Wojciechowska, another member of the steering committee, explained how shelters in Hamilton have not been sufficiently supported by the city throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Wojciechowska explained that earlier this year all but one of Hamilton’s men’s shelters were experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19.

“Given the Covid epidemics, [people] were refused at the door. We have heard from shelter workers about the lack of municipal support for staffing, for adequate PPE, for any sort of protocols or code measures. We have now been two years into this pandemic. The city has had enough time to react, to prepare, to prioritize and yet we are in the same position as a year ago, Wojciechowska said.

Hagger added that over the past few months the city has taken a clear stance against people residing in encampments by saying tents must go.

“They care about aesthetics. The city cares about maintaining a certain image. While making these remarks and saying all these horrible things, they offer no lasting or dignified alternative,” Haggar said.

Hagger recalled seeing police officers and city workers telling residents of the encampment to move further into the trees where they would be less visible.

“The city has no problem letting people freeze to death; they also have a problem with maintaining a pristine image of Hamilton that excludes all poor, homeless people,” Hagger said.

In November 2021, several people protesting against the evictions of camps were stopped. These people said that the police used violence during the arrests, leaving them with various injuries.

In one video shared by the Hamilton Center for Civic Inclusion, officers can be seen tackling three black youths outside Hamilton Central Police Station.

“Here are the footage of Hamilton police arresting [three] Black youth in the early afternoon. These violent attacks are reminiscent of outright police brutality and systemic racism. Why are young black people being arrested while advocating for better housing options for residents? »

Declaration of Hamilton Civic Inclusion Center

Wojciechowska also pointed out how many people making decisions about Hamilton’s housing crisis don’t really understand what the options for those without housing look like. Wojciechowska recalled that during a day of community delegation to inform the operating budget, a city councilor expressed his confusion as to why one might choose to live in an encampment rather than a shelter.

“People make the decisions. They don’t even understand what the conditions are in the shelters,” Wojciechowska said.

Wojciechowska pointed out how this lack of understanding leads the City of Hamilton to present options to homeless community members that aren’t truly viable.

“We had someone who testified that during outbreaks in the women’s sector, people who were in COVID-19 isolation would not be able to access the shower for ten days. Again, these are presented as options to people. In a camp, at least you have a community, at least you control isolation, contact and exposure with others. While [the other option is that] you’re crammed into a shelter with who knows how many other people, a shelter in the midst of an outbreak and the city is calling it a housing solution,” Wojciechowska said.

Despite the current situation, Wojciechowska and Hagger expressed optimism that through HESN’s work and advocacy, the public has become more aware of Hamilton’s housing crisis.

“There has been a shift in the public narrative over the past year regarding encampments. [There has been a shift in] understand the conditions and causes of encampments and understand how these relate to the housing crisis and how this aligns with the municipal failure to take responsibility for housing people,” Wojciechowska said.

Treating all members of our community with care is crucial, and this includes respecting and accommodating the needs of homeless community members. Going forward, the City of Hamilton still has a lot of work to do to support people who are homeless.

Amarah Hasham Steele