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Our statement

October 21, 2020

Hello Keeping Six and HAMSMaRT supporters,

We hope this update finds you well. This last week has been one of the hardest in the very short lives of our two organizations. The dismantlement of the encampments at Ferguson and FirstOntario on Thursday and Friday last week was devastating for all of us. Most of all for our friends who live in encampments. This is one week where we would encourage you to sit down and take the time to read the whole newsletter, not just the bolded points.

The lifting of the injunction was permitted by the agreement we reached with the City, which puts into place a new protocol for engaging encampments and acknowledges that some people have nowhere else to go and thus need to be permitted to stay in place. We knew in accepting the agreement that this clearing would happen. We did our absolute best to ensure that the harms of the process were reduced as much as possible. We spent time with people in the lead up to Thursday and Friday ensuring residents knew the deadline. We provided everyone with suitcases to pack their things, meaning they were able to pack before the day of. We asked waste management to take their lead from HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six, and as far as we know nothing was disposed of that people did not consent to. We absolutely know that this does not mean that people did not dispose of things that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Many people were able to access indoor spaces, including some single men who went to shelter and several women and couples who were able to access newly opened hotel spaces. Shelters in the city are now trying to keep up with the increased demand. As we expected, some people were also forced to move their tents to new locations. We drove many of those people and their belongings to other locations in the City where they should be protected by the new protocol. The City will now turn its attention to the other smaller encampments around the Hamilton. We will continue to engage and support people in the process as they are approached in the context of the injunction settlement.

The process of forcing people from their homes into further uncertainty, in the driving rain no less, was utterly inhumane. Many have questioned and criticized us for being party to it. We hear and accept your criticism, and are committed to reflecting on it. We will continue to support those who were displaced to other locations in the city. We continue to do our street outreach twice per week, and have funding to continue this until at least the end of 2020. We are also now going to pause to reflect on this process, what worked, what we have achieved, what we could or should have done differently and what comes next. This last six months has been extremely intense and trying, as we waded into unchartered territory for both of our groups. In the coming weeks we will announce a community report back. Please stay tuned. And please, if you see the need, take up this work in your own way, remembering to build relationships with people who are homeless and centering their material needs in the present moment.

Finally, we maintain that tents are not a solution.We need housing for all. But if you see people in tents in your community, it really is because there is no other option for people. Before you pick up the phone to complain, consider that. Think about what you would want someone to do if it was you, and remember that it could be you. Talk with your neighbors about how you can support and create relationships with your neighbors experiencing homelessness. It is in doing this, building community, that we are all kept safe.

As always, we exist within a broader context. What does it mean for settler governments to displace people on stolen land? How is the crisis of homelessness driven by colonization? We must also contend with this if we really want to end homelessness and ensure everyone has access to safe, secure, stable, supportive housing. Please stay informed about 1492 Land Back Lane, the ongoing arrests of land defenders, and donate to their legal fund as both the criminal and civil Canadian legal systems are used to continue colonial violence. This piece by Haudenosaunee author Alicia Elliot is an excellent and important analysis for those of us in health care about the links between psychiatric health care, stolen land, and colonization. On the east coast, settlers are physically attacking and harming Mi’kmaq lobster fishers, with the RCMP standing by without intervening. There is a comprehensive overview of the issue, including the historical and legal contexts and the current violence, on the APTN website. A list of ways to take action, including contacting your elected officials and making monetary donations and educating friends and family, is available here.

Colonial violence in healthcare is nothing new, but has reared its ugly head the last few weeks. We are angry about the harm inflicted on Joyce Echaquan and Georges-Hervé Awashish by healthcare workers, and it is our responsibility to speak out against anti-Indigenous racism whenever and wherever we see it. We are grateful for the leadership of Indigenous women here in Hamilton who have struck an Indigenous Health Practitioners task force. Health workers in Hamilton, please ask your institutions how they are responding to and engaging with the task force.

On the outreach front, we continue to get many requests from community members for tents, tarps, and sleeping blankets for people sleeping rough. To donate please reach out to us at tents@keepingsix.org. We know that many of you have already donated, so we encourage you to reach out to 5 friends, family members or colleagues who don’t follow our work and ask them to consider donating. And the November volunteer sign up schedule is live! Sign up to go on outreach, bake, or decorate paper lunch bags. If you are a registered volunteer, you should have already received the sign up link – shoot us an email at volunteer@keepingsix.org if you haven’t received it. If you are not already registered as a volunteer and want to join the volunteer crew for November, sign up here https://keepingsix.org/volunteer.

Please take 5 minutes today to call or email your city councillor, bylaw enforcement, and police, and implore them to adhere to the settlement encampment protocol. Please copy us info@hamsmart.ca and info@keepingsix.org on all emails. For emails to the city, please also copy the city clerk clerk@hamilton.ca.

ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE THIS WEEK:

CONTACT CITY COUNCILLORS, BYLAW ENFORCEMENT, AND POLICE asking them to respect the settlement encampment protocol. See details above.

DONATE TO THE SIX NATIONS LAND DEFENDERS via e-transfer for supplies to landback6nations@gmail.com or to their legal fund.

SUPPORT MI’KMAK LOBSTER FISHERS by emailing elected officials, donating funds, and talking to family and friends. Resource list here.

ASK THE INSTITUTIONS AND ORGANIZATIONS you are affiliated with what they are doing to move beyond land acknowledgements and support the Six Nations land defenders at 1492 Land Back Lane or engage with the Indigenous Health Practitioners task force.

VOLUNTEER to decorate brown paper bags for outreach lunches, bake sweet treats, or go on outreach, by signing up here.

DONATE CASH (or ask people in your network to donate) here.

DONATE LIKE-NEW/EXCELLENT CONDITION TENTS, SLEEPING BAGS, FLEECE BLANKETS, OR TARPS by emailing us tents@keepingsix.org.

In Solidarity,

HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six

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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.