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our delegation to the emergency and community services committee

Dear Chair and Members of the Emergency and Community Services Committee:

Thank you for receiving our delegation.  We are writing to you today on behalf of Keeping Six, Hamilton Harm Reduction Action League to request that the City re-evaluate and change its approach to encampments to better support the needs of those living in them and to facilitate service provision and access to housing.  We believe that this can be accomplished in the following ways:

  • that there be an explicit acknowledgement that the shelter system (including the pandemic hotels) do not meet the needs of many, and this is a significant contributing factor to the encampments in the city
  • by including people with lived experience of living in encampments in the City led encampments working group and providing the supports necessary for participation
  • that people living in encampments be prioritized for supportive housing
  • that ultra-low barrier shelter option or options be created
  • that in the absence of suitable housing or shelter, people be offered the option of sanctioned encampments in locations suitable to the City and the encampments’ inhabitants
  • that, barring an alternative suitable to the people or person in question, a person’s housing not be dismantled, at least for the duration of the pandemic, as recommended by the Center for Disease Control.

Let us begin by saying that we appreciate that this is a difficult subject and that you face extra-ordinary pressure from the tax and voting base to “get rid” of this problem and restore access to perceived security and tranquil green space.  We also acknowledge that the issue has been hurtled into the minds and emails of many because of the highly visible First Ontario Centre Encampment.

As a group comprised of people and supporters of people living or who have lived in such encampments, we need for you to understand that the problem for us is broader than FOC and more pressing than access to green space.  Further, we are not the pariah that people want to make us out to be, and that the moral leadership of the city on this issue could go a long way toward shifting that narrative and building a more inclusive city.

A mainstay of our work as an organization led by people with lived experience is being connected to the people on the ground.   A constant refrain from the streets is that people are exhausted and undermined by being in a perpetual state of dislocation.  Always being moved along.  It is next to impossible to make any progress in life while being consumed by sorting out where to be.

Another pillar of our work is to insist that the voices of people impacted by policy create that policy, or at least have a hand in it.   Nothing about us, without us.  This is of course about representation but also practicality; you would be surprised by how smart we are, how well we understand the issues and their nuance, and the ways in which we are able to propose realistic solutions and create buy in for them.

Another pillar of our work is to insist that the voices of people impacted by policy create that policy, or at least have a hand in it.   Nothing about us, without us.  This is of course about representation but also practicality; you would be surprised by how smart we are, how well we understand the issues and their nuance, and the ways in which we are able to propose realistic solutions and create buy in for them.

Our community has several times raised the idea of sanctioned sites, where we could establish some modicum of stability by doing away with the perpetual need to find a new place to live and acquire new belongings destroyed in the dismantlement.  While it may not seem obvious at first glance, the stability and predictability of sanctioned or tacitly supported sites will decrease the problems associated with encampments, not increase them.  Firstly, we will have an opportunity to create stable community and a sense of cohesion and ownership which fosters accountability to one another, our surroundings, and the community.  Second, it facilitates access and continuity to services that might help us gain access to more stable housing (one of our number one goals), and health care.  There is successful precedent for this in other cities in Canada and we would be happy to connect you to folks doing that work.  K6 would also be first to engage people in such an encampment and would make it a priority for our existing outreach program.

Finally, a note to say, it gives us no great joy to come before you today and beg for people to be left to camp in the city.  It is not what most of us want.  But in the acknowledged absence of an alternative, with a run of systems failures that cross all levels of government, it is what we are left with.

The existing services for shelter in the city are valued and have hard working dedicated people in them and, we acknowledge, consume a great deal of resources.  But we are all in agreement that the existing services do not meet some people’s needs.  Some of us simply do not succeed in them.  Teams of people worked extremely hard to humanely and respectfully clear people from the Sir John A encampment.  On a Friday most if not all were in shelter or hotel.  By Monday many were discharged and back on the street.

Now, we can discuss why that it is and disagree about where to “lay the blame” as it were, but the facts the ground remain that as it stands, it doesn’t work for some.  We and many before us have long been in discussion about what could work.   At every turn to every suggestion we hear: there are no resources for that, we have no funds, no staff. Excellent supportive programs like HOMES are oversubscribed and have long waitlists.  The reality is that our current suite of Housing First services in Hamilton does not meet the housing needs of people who experience the most complex barriers to housing.  The encampments we are talking about today are exacerbated by that gap in services.

This plea to not move encampments unless an acceptable alternative is available is an acceptance of that proposition, that the resources to solve this crisis don’t currently exist. Our preference is definitely for people to have access to suitable indoor living arrangements.  But in the current climate, we know that this is not possible. In a time when everyone comes to the city asking for everything, we are asking for an end to the resource intensive perpetual make work project of moving people around from place to place, which only undermines any effort to “get rid of people”,  because no matter what the complaining tax payers or voters want, moving us on does not make us evaporate.  We need to be somewhere.

We appreciate that it is a complex subject that lends itself best to conversation and answering of questions.  We have tried to anticipate some of your questions in the appendix and provide brief answers.  We are happy to sit down at any time to discuss further how this shift in strategy could work.

Sincerely,

Jody Ans
Founding member of K6

Lisa Nussey
Co-coordinator of K6

EST. 2018

Keeping Six – Hamilton Harm Reduction Action League is a community-based organization that defends the rights, dignity, and humanity of people who use drugs.