Demonstration at Hamilton public works yard after failed legal battle to prevent encampment removal

A number of advocates for Hamilton’s homeless population held a solidarity picket at the city-run parks and recreation facility on Friday, just days after a court action failed to stop the city from potentially dismantling small encampments in parks.

Members of the Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN) gathered at the public works yard on Studeholme Road, near Chedoke Golf Course, to stop trucks they say are responsible for carrying out encampment evictions for the day.

“Since the failed injunction, we’ve seen a rapid escalation of teardowns with the idea of making homelessness disappear,” a speaker said at the demonstration.

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“Encampment residents are forced to disappear into the escarpment away from their own communities where they are in a lot more danger than where they were.”

A spokesperson for the city of Hamilton confirmed 30 staff and about 10 vehicles were prevented from attending work sites as a result of the protests.

“The city respects people’s right to peacefully protest, but must also ensure the safety and respectful treatment of city staff in their workplace,” senior communications officer Michelle Shantz said in an e-mail.

“Majority of staff at the location were sent home. Remaining staff were redeployed to other work and work locations today.”

The demonstration comes after Superior Court Justice Andrew J. Goodman ruled against a group of homeless residents seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the City of Hamilton from moving homeless residents from city parks.

The same day as the court decision, the city issued a release saying it would be resuming enforcement of park bylaws.

In making his decision, the judge said evidence brought forth by counsel at the hearing demonstrated the city “continues to undertake reasonable steps in order to make available safe shelter space and accommodation.”

Over two days, Oct. 21-22, Goodman heard verbal arguments from counsel using written testimony from the likes of doctors, residents and outreach staff connected to the encampment issue.

Counsel for the city argued that the installations in city parks were causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage to trees, grass and other permanent structures in addition to propagating safety issues, unauthorized use of electricity and calls to clean up discarded needles and drug paraphernalia.

The applicants suggested the city has not created any new shelter space for the homeless, citing recent dates in mid-October when the director of housing services stated the system didn’t have enough beds on a given night.

Since the decision, the city says outreach staff have offered 40 people from encampments spaces in shelters or hotels.

Only 12 individuals and couples have accepted the offer to date.

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“At times, individuals may decline an offer of shelter initially or not arrive at the shelter for different reasons,” said Shantz.

“Outreach staff remain engaged with these individuals and continue their outreach activities and offers of support with shelter, referral to community supports, and developing housing plans.”

As of Nov. 2, the city says there are 507 emergency shelter beds in Hamilton.

The (HESN) is demanding an end to encampment teardowns — and that the resources be redirected into the creation of affordable housing.

 

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