Activists speak out against Hamilton’s decision to prohibit encampments once again
C/O Adam Thomas
Repeal of the 2020 encampment protocol sparks disapproval across the community
In fall of 2020, the city of Hamilton worked with a number of activist groups to develop an encampment protocol agreement. This protocol allowed unhoused individuals to remain in encampments for up to fourteen days and in some cases, to remain indefinitely. The protocol also called on the city to assist these individuals in moving to shelters or housing.
On Aug. 9, 2021, Hamilton City Council held an emergency meeting in which they voted to repeal this protocol and return to pre-pandemic policy, which disallows all encampments on city property. According to a media release, the decision came because the protocol was deemed ineffective.
“Following today’s Council decision, the City will return to the pre-pandemic approach to services, which includes continued dedication to helping those sleeping rough find safe and humane options while enforcing its bylaws prohibiting camping on public property,” City Council stated in its media release.
The council held this meeting as a closed session in a private video conference room. Activist groups who were a part of the development of the protocol were not included in the discussion. The motion to end the protocol was moved by Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr.
Many activist groups have criticized the city’s decision to prohibit encampments once again. Keeping Six, one of the activist groups that first worked with the city to develop the encampment protocol, released a statement on Aug. 10, detailing their position.
“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,” wrote Keeping Six.
HESN is a volunteer-run activist group that supports and advocates for unhoused Hamiltonians. According to their Instagram, HESN advocates for the principle that housing is a human right and they seek to make housing accessible to all Hamiltonians. Their methods, as stated on their Instagram, include site monitoring and check-ins, supply drop-offs and observation and de-escalation during teardowns.
In their open letter, which has amassed a number of signatures from both organizations and individuals, they stated the following: “Encampment evictions have been and continue to be dehumanizing, insidious displays of violence in a sustained municipal war on Black, Indigenous, racialized, disabled, poor and unhoused communities, both in so-called Hamilton as well as across Turtle Island.”
The open letter goes on to detail how encampment evictions are currently a public health crisis and how the national and provincial governments have been lacking in addressing this issue.
According to Vic Wojciechowska, a volunteer with HESN, even the previous protocol did not adequately protect people from encampment evictions.
“People [were] displaced from park to park, often faster than within a 14-day framework. That's because the city was initiating that 14 day process the moment that a tent would appear in a green space. This was not public information; this is something we learned by showing up to encampment teardowns.”
Further, the letter emphasizes how the current pandemic has exacerbated the public health threat that encampment evictions pose.
“We also know that houseless community members are at far greater risk of contracting COVID-19 under current overcrowded shelter conditions and that encampment evictions physically prevent homeless community members from accessing resources, supports,and medical care through routine displacement,” stated the open letter.
According to Wojciechowska, the open letter is an important way to create awareness about encampment evictions.
“It was one thing that [could] be done to bring people together, to talk about what it means for the protocol to happen, [to be] repealed and to just create some sort of initial conversation,” said Wojciechowska.
According to Wojciechowska, there are many reasons why shelters may be inaccessible for some unhoused individuals or why they may choose encampments over shelters. They explained that, due to COVID-19 precautions, shelter space has decreased dramatically. As well, Wojciechowska said that shelters can restrict the autonomy of their residents in multiple ways, such as through implementing strict check-in and check-out times.
“People have shared with us that they actually look forward to the summer months when they can stay in an encampment and can actually create their own communities and ways of keeping each other safe,” stated Wojciechowska.
When discussing the city’s response to encampments, Wojciechowska emphasized the importance of listening to unhoused individuals in the community.
“Let them choose to stay outside. Let encampments exist. If people are telling you that they feel safer in encampments, listen to them and build that into your response,” said Wojciechowska.
When the Silhouette reached out to Councillor Jason Farr, they were not available for an interview.