Ontario Alliance to End Homlessness Statement RE: Encampments in the City of Hamilton

August 30, 2021
RE: Encampments in the City of Hamilton

We, the Ontario Alliance to End Homelessness, have worked together to present to you a path forward to ensure that the actions taken by the City of Hamilton to remove people from encampments end and that the City uphold the encampment protocols created as the result of the Encampment Task Force. Using armed police officers on horseback and in riot gear as we have seen in Toronto, and removing residents who are vulnerable to the unaffordable housing market due to inadequate social supports, has no place in a caring, compassionate society. Instead, we must commit to taking a human rights compliant approach toward housing encampment residents that is co-created with encampment residents.

A tent in a park is no one’s first option, and we understand that parks cannot be a permanent housing solution. However, the forcible removal of encampment residents must end. This inflicts further trauma on already vulnerable Torontonians and does not address the issues you are trying to solve. This approach just relocates people to another park, underneath a bridge, or, worse, back to an unsafe living situation that led them to a tent in the first place. We believe there is a better way. A coalition of poverty and homelessness organizations and advocates, including those with lived experience in encampments and shelters, housing advocates and experts, have worked together to present the following recommendations and we strongly urge the City of Hamilton to uphold its commitment to the protocols in place to address people living in encampments.

A Human Rights Compliant Approach toward Residents in Encampments:

1. Provide safe indoor shelter and housing opportunities for residents of encampments that ensures the safety and dignity of encampment residents and frontline staff. This should be done using a collaborative approach that includes consultation with relevant staff, organizations serving the homeless population and focused on the right to housing and, most importantly, residents with lived experience of homelessness.

2. Ensure that all City directed activity and programs related to encampment abide by the National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada.

3. Recognize that residents are rights-holders who have the ability to make informed decisions regarding their housing/living situation without threat of criminalization, or the use of coercive tactics or force. o This includes an immediate end to the display and use of police force and military tactics, including ‘kettling’, in encampments to intimidate, threaten, coerce, or enforce the displacement of residents.

4. Meaningful engagement with encampment residents and relevant organizations serving unhoused people to assist with navigating options regarding indoor space and housing.

• Residents must be presented with full information regarding indoor space/housing options, and have the ability to choose a space appropriate for them. In order to ensure adequacy, residents should also be allowed to request reasonable changes to indoor space/housing options on offer;
• Residents should not be subject to harassment or intimidation. They should receive appropriate supports until an indoor space/housing option has been freely selected.

5. Uphold the current City’s Protocol that was informed by the UN Special Rapporteur and lawyer Lailani Farha titled “A Human Rights Approach: A National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada”

Providing a Safer and More Welcoming Space for Shelter Residents:

6 . Recognize that shelters, at present, aren’t necessarily a safer option for unhoused the City should:
• Review of existing advisory groups to Shelter, Support, and Housing Administration and establish an advisory committee of current and past shelter clients to provide advice to improve shelter operations for clients;
• Review of existing shelter and respite standards and operational practices to further enhance opportunities to provide a more welcoming environment, including, but not limited to, allowing food in room;
• Review policies that restrict shelter access, including service restrictions, for reasons that are not direct threats to the health and safety of clients or staff, provide support to help clients meet shelter expectations, and ensure that restrictions are reviewed centrally to ensure transparency and accountability;
• Ensure that clients are able to meet with a housing and health care worker within the first week of arrival to understand their needs and develop a housing and health care plan; o Independent audits of shelter operations to ensure the city’s shelter and respite policies are followed and that clients are regularly surveyed regarding their access to housing and health supports, and for feedback upon discharge;
• Ensure that clients are able to sleep and have privacy by reviewing and providing guidance on how to conduct “bed-checks” in a manner that respects client dignity and privacy while ensuring effective shelter operations;
• Provide supports to ensure nutritious meals are available for clients, as per their specific dietary needs and restrictions; and
• Affirm and ensure that the City’s policy to not permit strangers to be placed in a shared room together in shelter hotels and that clients have eligible possessions put in storage is adhered to and communicated to relevant stakeholders.

7. To encourage encampment residents to accept indoor spaces, further enhance the services and supports on-site, including:
• The provision of accessible and low-barrier harm reduction services, including Supervised Consumption Sites and Safe Supply, on location at all shelter sites;
• The provision of accessible, on-site healthcare services in partnership with healthcare agencies at all shelter locations;
• The provision of enhanced and consistent IPAC measures and staff training at all shelter locations;
• Appropriate accommodations for people living with disability specific to their individual health needs;
• More specific spaces and services appropriate to people’s identities, understanding that Indigenous, Black, and trans people are overrepresented among people experiencing homelessness;
• Ensuring the safety and security of people’s belongings, including their tents and sleeping bags.

8. The provision of full information on available shelter sites and greater transparency around the shelter system as a whole, including:
• The provision of location information, location photos, and any other relevant information regarding available shelter space as part of an offer of indoor space, and responding in full to questions and concerns regarding on-site amenities and services at specific shelter locations;
• Public updates around outbreaks of COVID-19, tuberculosis, Group A Streptococcus, and other communicable diseases within the shelter system, with outbreak sites identified by name.

9. Ensuring that shelter capacity does not exceed 90% so that space is readily available for any and all unhoused people seeking a shelter bed, understanding that the shelter system is an emergency service that must be available for anyone that needs it.

Moving Forward — toward permanent housing:

10. Through practice at the City and advocacy to senior levels of government, move away from actions that simply maintain the unaffordable private market, such as rent supplements, or rent banks. These measures should not be a primary component of Toronto’s affordable housing plan and should only be used in emergency situations.

11. Purpose-built, Rent-Geared-to-Income housing should be the City’s primary focus for affordable housing as the majority of people who are, have, or will experience homelessness are simply unable to afford rent, and are not chronically homeless.

12. Supportive housing is an important component, especially for people living with some forms of disability, mental health diagnosis, etc. Supports should be geared toward individual needs.

13. Eviction prevention needs further enhancement — people entering into housing from homelessness should have support to build and maintain an eviction prevention plan for six months to one year; as well, to lessen the number of people experiencing homelessness in Hamilton overall, the City should invest in upstream solutions like housing, but also drop-ins and housing help supports.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter that deeply affects residents of encampments, shelters, and their family and friends across Hamilton that care about their future. We hope you will present and support the above measures at the next meeting of Council and stop dismantling encampments and sit down with community stakeholders to ensure that a Human Rights based approach is upheld when supporting people living in encampments.

Ontario Alliance to End Homelessness (OAEH)