K6 & HAMSMaRT Weekly Newsletter no. 18
July 21, 2020
Another hot, busy week with encampments becoming a hot button issue (even though the real issue is housing). This is a long read, so grab a glass of ice water or lemonade or iced coffee or whatever your refreshing beverage of choice is, and settle in. Or, just read the bolded sentences below to get the main points from our weekly update.
The August volunteer sign up schedule will open this week! We have an active roster of volunteers baking cookies, decorating brown paper bags and going on outreach. If you are a registered volunteer, you should receive the sign up link this week – shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you don’t get it by the end of the week. If you are not already registered as a volunteer and want to join the volunteer crew for August, sign up here https://keepingsix.org/volunteer.
Live curbside performances are sold out, but there’s still time to get a ticket to the online viewing of Keeping Six Arts Collective and Open Heart theatre company’s “I Really Wish You Knew Me” at the Hamilton Fringe Festival. The production features our K6 Arts Collective members Dani Deloitinville and Jammy Pierre, and is based on the stories we are hearing on outreach and through our arts programming. Buy a ticket to watch online at your convenience.
Outreach happened as planned three times this past week, with more than 750 lunches distributed along with over 750 home baked goods, art supplies, essentials, and harm reduction supplies for people who use drugs. Thank you to all of the volunteers who make this happen! We’ve also had some staffing changes, and are excited to welcome Vince Soliveri to the outreach coordinator role alongside Marcie McIlveen. The extreme heat and lack of access to drinkable water remains the number one issue right now. We are still asking YOU, if you have the means, to make water, juice, or popsicle drops in the city. Our experience and consultation with the community suggests the following non-exhaustive list of locations are high needs: the parkette at King and Wellington Sts, Ferguson St Station between King and Main Sts, Gore Park, Rebecca St park (at John St), on top of Jackson Square, around City Hall, Corktown Park (Ferguson and Forrest Sts), Beasley Park (Mary and Cannon Sts), Woodlands Park (Wentworth and Barton), outside the Barton branch of the Library. If you would like to deliver water or juice or popsicles directly to an encampment, please remember that you are approaching someone’s home and do so as you would any other Hamilton resident’s home.
This week the subject of encampments was discussed twice in virtual council chambers, once at the Emergency and Community Services Committee meeting on Monday and then again on Friday at the full Council meeting. Last week we commented on the ECSC meeting; we are pleased that the committee directed city staff to respond to our delegations requesting a new approach to encampments and include an analysis of a human rights based approach to encampments as described by the UN special rapporteur on homelessness. Friday’s council meeting was a surprise to us, particularly the discussion about HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six’s response to encampments. Councillor Farr’s suggestion that we are part of the problem of encampments for handing out tents in response to the requests from people on the streets shows a lack of understanding about the root causes of homelessness. And we have tried to engage with him. HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six emailed Councillor Farr about encampments first on April 29, and received a brief response saying he was looking into it and would get back to us. We emailed him again May 10 to follow up. Nor did we receive a response to any of the many emails we were cc’d on from constituents requesting a changed approach to encampments. Before deriding us in public, Jason Farr made no effort whatsoever to speak to us. Giving out tents is not where we started – we have tried to engage with both city councillors and city staff. While there has been a slowing of dismantling encampments in recent weeks, we have not been successful in securing assurances of a sustained humane response to encampments in Hamilton. If we gifted the councillor a tent, would he go sleep in it on Ferguson St? Or would it be a leisure item for recreational camping? As we said on twitter, handing out tents is not illegal, & it is not the problem. People who are homeless are not the problem. HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six are not the problem. We are just trying to care for each other in the ways available to us in the face of the actual problems – a lack of stable, accessible, affordable, appropriate housing; racism, sexism, colonization, homophobia, and transphobia which all contribute to homelessness among racialized, Indigenous, queer, and trans people. We appreciate Paul Johnson, the General Manager of Healthy and Safe Communities, acknowledging the problem is a result of inadequate housing supply: “The amount of fully supportive housing in this community does not meet the demand that’s there,” and the editorial from The Hamilton Spectator in support of our encampment approach.
We recognize that the housing crisis is international in both scope and origin. It runs deeper than something that can be addressed by the city alone – but we believe there is a role for moral and economic leadership by the city. Housing can either be understood as a commodity to be bought, sold, and invested in; or as a human right essential for dignity, health, and community. The former has gotten us into the situation we face now, and the latter will get us out. City leadership should include a plea for understanding and engagement in response to constituent complaints about homelessnes, halting the dismantling of encampments, providing people living in encampments with drinking water and washrooms and healthcare and social service supports, and investing in housing that actually meets the needs of people who are currently unsheltered. This is good for public health, for individual health, and respects the dignity of every member of our community. We will continue to connect with the community on the question of encampments and advocate for a just and humane approach to encampments, that recognizes that people don’t cease to exist once moved along.
We don’t want to spend much time on Terry Whitehead’s response to an email from a concerned citizen about the encampments. It was rude and disrespectful. We are grateful to the person who sent the email for sharing the response and exposing this horrific approach to homelessness. Institutionalization is certainly not the answer and just a further entrenchment of state violence without producing any sort of good outcomes for the people and communities subject to it. This approach would violate Charter Rights and Freedoms. Anyone calling for institutionalization (or interested in learning more in order to refute these calls) can read more about the violence of this approach and its history and present manifestations, the intersections of institutionalization and COVID-19 in Canada, and the story of one survivor of the Huronia Regional Centre.
Add your voice to the growing movement for a humane and just approach to encampments in the city. Please keep up the pressure on city officials, and consider who else in your network might be able to offer services. Our requests are:
- Stop ticketing people who are homeless.
- Enact a moratorium on clearing encampments on public lands as per available public health guidance.
- Work to quickly open more washrooms, showers, and physical spaces for people to safely be throughout downtown and east Hamilton.
- Ensure that people have adequate access to potable water.
- Take a housing first approach to helping people access non-congregate housing options.
Please take 5 minutes today to call or email your city councillor about these urgent needs.
Finally, as always, we are inextricably linked to other struggles for justice. Kanyenkehaka kanonhses is the Mohawk Longhouse located at Six Nations reserve. The longhouse is in desperate need of repairs: the roof is damaged and the laneway needs to be fixed. They typically have a yard sale to fundraise for these funds from members and community, but that is not an option given COVID-19. One of our amazing HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six volunteers is coordinating online fundraisers instead. Please consider donating to the GoFundMe or bidding on items in the online auction. No Hate in the Hammer is marking one year of organizing in the city with an online event July 30. The steering committee will share what they’ve done in the past year and the actions taken since August to combat the spread of hate in Hamilton. Free tickets available here. Nearby, BLM-TO activists took action to disrupt a racist monument, and were then arrested and held for hours without access to medication and legal counsel. BLM-TO held space at 52 division police station overnight until all 3 were released. Hamilton activists were there in support. Please check out the video recording of their press conference from today for important details and analysis.
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE THIS WEEK:
DROP WATER, JUICE, OR POPSICLES TO LOCATIONS IN THE CITY WHERE IT IS NEEDED See above for a list of potential places where there may be people who need drinks
CONTACT YOUR CITY COUNCILLOR AND THE MAYOR To ask them about what they are doing to support people who are homeless and people who use drugs, and request they place a moratorium on the removal of encampments and ticketing, and instead focus the city’s efforts on providing people with adequate water, shelter, food, and services. You can find contact info for your city councillor here.
VOLUNTEER to decorate brown paper bags for outreach lunches, bake sweet treats, go on outreach, shop for supplies, or help staff rest and hygiene stations, by signing up here: https://keepingsix.org/volunteer.
DONATE CASH (or ask people in your network to donate) https://keepingsix.org/support/.
DONATE LIKE-NEW/EXCELLENT CONDITION TENTS, SLEEPING BAGS, FLEECE BLANKETS, OR TARPS by emailing us email@example.com. Fleece blankets are a great project for sewers!
AMPLIFY our messages on twitter @HAMSMaRTeam and @keepingsix and by forwarding this email, so that decision makers LISTEN to people who are homeless and/or who use drugs about what they need right now.