Statement on the City of Hamilton’s decision to abandon the negotiated settlement on encampments.

August 10, 2021

We are floored by the sudden decision of Hamilton City Council to abandon their legally negotiated obligations under the encampment protocol. HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six, along with our co-applicants on last year’s injunction, negotiated this protocol in good faith with the understanding that although it was far from perfect in our eyes, it was a compromise that provided better protection to encampment residents and avoided a drawn out and potentially costly court battle with the city. For the city to walk away from this negotiated settlement unilaterally, and without even the courtesy of any communication with us, or any apparent consultation with those on the front lines, is deeply anti-democratic and repressive.

We once again acknowledge the limitations of the current protocol. Over the past year we have continued to witness forced evictions of encampment residents, resulting in significant trauma and eroding trust. However we maintain that the protocol provides an avenue through which officials can choose to do the right thing. The protocol has bought encampment residents precious time, allowing them to connect to services and to find some measure of stability. In some instances it has permitted people to stay in one spot for extended periods of time. It has made explicit what should be an obvious fact: moving people when there is no viable option for housing serves no benefit and causes significant harm. We have heard from our colleagues on the front lines about how the protocol has helped them to do their jobs and to stay connected to the people that they serve, and we have heard from encampment residents of the benefits of being able to remain in one location, with some of the threat of constant eviction being removed.

The city claims in their press release that they are returning to “pre-pandemic” enforcement of anti-camping bylaws, and that housing options are available for all who want them. We categorically object to these characterizations. COVID-19 remains a threat that disproportionately affects those forced to the margins of society, including our homeless community members. To suggest that the risk has passed at a time when we are seeing several outbreaks in shelter settings and amongst those sleeping rough is callous and cynical. To suggest that viable housing options are available for all is demonstrably untrue.

We are currently in discussions with our legal representatives, community partners and encampment residents about our next steps. We would like to reiterate again that our approach is based on the premise that housing is a human right. Repealing the protocol once again shows us that some city councillors care more about protecting property than they do about protecting human life and dignity. If they actually wanted to support people living in encampments they would acknowledge the facts on the ground and focus intensely on rapidly expanding access to safe, affordable, permanent housing with appropriate supports.

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.