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Hamilton is a city of stark inequalities. As the city’s economy booms, many Hamiltonians are swept to the sidelines as a result of a housing crisis and employment insecurity. Compared to other cities in Ontario, Hamilton also has a high proportion of working class people, disabled people and refugees, who are often the first to feel the brunt of these changes.

Health outcomes over the past decade have been bleak, and according to many disability justice and healthcare advocates, show no signs of changing unless bold steps are taken to support Hamilton’s marginalized populations.

 

The Code Red Project

In 2010, the Hamilton Spectator released Code Red, a project that mapped the connections between income and health across Hamilton to explore the social determinants of health. Using census and hospital data from 2006 and 2007, the report showed strong disparities in health outcomes between the Hamilton’s wealthiest and poorest neighbourhoods.

The Code Red project shows that social and economic inequalities lead to health inequalities. The lower city, which experiences disproportionately higher rates of poverty, also has significantly poorer health outcomes.

In February 2019, an updated Code Red project was released using data from 2016 and 2017. The updated Code Red project found that in general, health outcomes in Hamilton have declined and inequalities have grown.

Since the first Code Red project in 2010, the average lifespan in parts of the lower city has declined by 1.5 years. Furthermore, the gap in lifespan between Hamilton neighbourhoods has grown from 21 to 23 years.

 

Hamilton: the past 10 years

These results come as no surprise to Sarah Jama, an organizer with the disability justice network of Ontario. According to Jama, given the lack of political change coupled with changes in the city of Hamilton, it was inevitable that poverty would worsen and inequalities would deepen.

Jama notes that health care and social services tend to be compacted into the downtown core, which has tended to have a higher concentration of people who rely on these services.

However, rising costs of living within the downtown core has meant that the people who access these services are being priced out. According to a report by the Hamilton Social Planning and Research Council, eviction rates have skyrocketed in the past decade. As a result, the people who rely on these services have to make compromises about whether to live in a place with supports available close by, or a place that is affordable.

“The more compromises you have to meet with regard to your ability to live freely and safely in the city the harder it is to survive,” said Jama.

Denise Brooks, the executive director for Hamilton Urban Core, works directly with people at the margins of Hamilton’s healthcare system. Brooks noted that the 2010 Code Red project was a wake up call for many.  

“For me one of the biggest takeaways [from the first Code Red project] was even greater resolve that this really is a political issue and that it hasn't been looked at and is not being looked at as a crisis,” stated Brooks.

The 2010 Code Red project sparked projects including the Hamilton neighbourhood action strategy and pathways to education program. According to Brooks, while these initiatives were beneficial, more robust policy is needed to substantially address poverty.

“... [C]an we see any change in policy orientation? Did we see a reallocation of resources? Did we see a redistribution of priorities in any way? I would have to say no,” said Brooks.

 

Looking ahead

The updated Code Red project calls for a restructuring of the traditional health care system to include social and economic programs that contribute to people’s overall health.

However, recent political changes have led many health advocates to worry that the coming years will see change for the worse. Matthew Ing, a member of the DJNO research committee, notes that provincial cuts to a slew social assistance programs threaten to further exacerbate the existing inequalities in Hamilton.

In November 2018, the provincial government announced reforms to Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program that aimed to streamline social assistance and incentivize people to return to work. Among many changes, this includes aligning the definition of disability to align with the more narrow definition used the federal government.

According to Jama, narrowing the eligibility requirements for disability support makes it likely that people will slip through the cracks. They will put the responsibility on the municipality to provide services, meaning that care is likely to differ between providers.

“The onus is going to be on individual service providers on all these people to really decide who really fits this idea of being disabled enough to be on the service versus it being like sort of supervised by the province,” stated Jama.

Additionally, in February 2019 the provincial government announced plans to streamline and centralize the health care process. Under the proposed model, Ontario Health teams led by a central provincial agency will replace the existing 14 local health integration networks across the province.

Brooks noted that this has not been the first time that the province sought out to reform healthcare. Having worked in community health for years, Brooks remarks that the changes that are made to healthcare frequently exclude people on the margins.

“It's always the people who are the most marginalized, the most vulnerable, the socially isolated and historically excluded that remain on those margins all the time regardless of the change that go through,” said Brooks.

Currently, patient and family advisory committees work to inform the work of LHINs. The government has not announced whether PFACs will be retained under the new model, but Ing worries that a centralized model would leave patients and families out of the decision making process.

However, Ing recognizes that the current system is far from perfect, noting that disabled communities were not adequately represented on PFACs. According to Ing, this speaks to the much larger problem of political erasure of people with disabilities.

“Disability justice means that we must organize across movements, and we must be led by the people who are most impacted,” writes Ing.

The DJNO was created in order to mobilize disabled communities and demand a holistic approach to healthcare reform. According to Jama, this includes seeing race, income, and disability as fundamentally interconnected.

However as social assistance measures are cut at the provincial level, the future for disability justice is murky. The results of the updated Code Red project paint a sobering picture of the state of health inequality in Hamilton. Given the direction that healthcare reform is taking on the provincial level, health and poverty advocates worry about the future of healthcare equality in Hamilton.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

Hamilton city council has committed to taking an equity and inclusion lens to municipal decisions going forward.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Fred Eisenberger brought a motion to city council to implement a new equity, diversity and inclusion lens into city policies.

The motion passed unanimously and calls for a report to be brought forward on how to introduce an EDI lens to all city initiatives.

Attached to the motion was a draft version of an equity, diversity and inclusion handbook.

The motion also includes an allocation of $5,000 for city council to hold an EDI summit.

The new lens builds on the recommendations highlighted in Hamilton’s equity and inclusion policy implemented in 2010.

Ward 1 councillor Maureen Wilson said an EDI lens will require the city to be more specific and concrete when it incorporates equity and inclusion into different policies.

According to Wilson, it is not about quotas and targets, but about a shift in decision-making that will require city council to include the perspectives of all communities.   

The EDI lens will first be applied to issues concerning housing and homelessness.

However, Wilson sees potential for it to affect how the city envisions issues like transit, helping to consider the ways that different communities, like women or bikers, get around in Hamilton.  

Eisenberger’s motion followed debate at city councillor over the city manager search committee and interview process, which some individuals, including Wilson and Ward 3 councillor Nrinder Nann, criticized for not taking a diverse and inclusive approach.

Denise Christopherson, the CEO of the YWCA Hamilton and chair of the status of women committee, has called for city council to adopt an EDI framework for years.

Christopherson said she is encouraged by the support for the motion at city council and appreciative of the efforts of Wilson and Nann in pushing this forward.

“It’s been in the works for a long time,” Christopherson said. “To develop a framework, this is going to be a multi-year work project that hopefully gets ingrained in everything they do at city hall. So when they're putting forward a proposal, it’s about, have they gone through the lens of inclusion? Who have they consulted with?”

The YWCA Hamilton currently runs multiple programs providing housing for non-binary people and women without places to stay.

Christopherson is hopeful that the new lens will result in more funding for programs like these.

“I like to say that the city should have a hand in all marginalized communities,” Christopherson said. “Hopefully we see more investment in those necessary programs.”

Community organizer Sophie Geffros is also optimistic about the new lens and what it could mean for current city council issues.

“I’m cautiously excited about it, because it signals to me that the city is at least beginning to acknowledge that designing a city around the needs of straight, white, middle class, able bodied men is not just ineffective but can be actively harmful for its marginalized citizens,” Geffros said.

As the city still awaits a report on how the lens will be implemented, activists and supporters of the motion are hopeful about the many policy areas a city-wide EDI framework could effect change in.  

 

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Header photo by Kyle West, Article photos C/O Shanice Regis

By: Drew Simpson

On Feb. 26, the Green is not White environmental racism workshop took place at the Hamilton Public Library’s Wentworth room. The free, open-to all workshop, garnered intrigue from attendees interested in learning about environmental racism.

Presenters sat on a raised platform and the room was filled with chart easel pads, activist posters and resources. The Green is Not White workshop, which is organized by Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces in partnership with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion started its seven-hour agenda with a land acknowledgement, icebreakers and then laid down foundational knowledge.  

Environmental racism is originally defined by Prof. Benjamin Chavis as the racial discrimination and unequal enforcement of environmental policies. The types of environmental racism have expanded since this 1987 definition and currently encompass air pollution, clean water, climate migration, extreme weather, food production, gentrification and toxins in the community and workplace.

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The crust of the issue is that ethnic minorities are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards. Black and Indigenous populations are most affected by environmental racism, yet this makes it no less of a collective issue. Local case studies were highlighted to drive this message close to home.

For example, most of Hamilton’s waste facilities are clustered just north of and within residential areas. This includes a proposed electronic waste processing facility, which can cause lead and mercury exposure, and an existing chemical wastes facility that is known for chemical explosions causing evacuations and serious injury. Loads of biosolids have been trucked through neighbourhoods posing disease risks from pathogens, concerns of terrible odours and ammonia use for steam filtering.

Studies show that Hamilton neighbourhoods with single-parent families and low education are the most exposed to air pollution. Since these neighbourhoods have fewer resources and are systematically marginalized, they are targeted by acts of environmental racism. The hashtag #EnvRacismCBTUACW continually discusses case studies across Canada.

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Along with the extensive examples of Canadians and Hamiltonians living in dire conditions due to environmental racism, as well as the government’s oversight of this issue, various Hamilton organizations have taken it upon themselves to drive change.

This workshop was the third part of a four-phase action research initiative on environmental racism by ACW, which develops tools to better the environmental conditions of jobs and the workplace and CBTU, a coalition that breaks the silence on African-Canadians’ labour issues. While this third stage involves community engagement, the fourth and final stage involves a joint report and video that will be housed on both the ACW and CBTU websites.

The slogan “Green is Not White” highlights that green jobs and environmentally safe conditions should not be reserved for white people. People of colour are most likely to work and live in dire conditions, and therefore deserve economic justice and access to clean water and land.

 

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Photos C/O Nu Omega Zeta

By: Areej Ali

Nu Omega Zeta is a Black-focused sorority at McMaster that aims to support and enrich the Black community on campus and in Hamilton.

While the sorority was founded in September 2011, plans to launch Nu Omega Zeta were in the works months before the sorority’s founding date.

The seven Nu Omega Zeta founders first looked to Black Greek organizations in the United States, which provided a good perspective on how they should establish their own chapter.

For instance, today, the sorority pairs up new members with a ‘Big Sister’ who provides guidance and support.

The founding members first looked for an executive board and then created the symbols, guidelines and pillars that the sorority would stand for.

According to Eno Antai, the current president of Nu Omega Zeta, members do not need to identify as Black in order to join the sorority.

Nevertheless, the group is Black-focused, aspiring to “promote the growth and enrichment of Black undergraduate students and to enhance their education through the strengthening of the relationships within the Black community.”

In particular, Nu Omega Zeta stands for “Sisterhood, Volunteerism and Knowledge.”

Over the few years, members of the sorority have volunteered at Empowerment Squared, a Hamilton-based charity that seeks to empower marginalized and newcomer communities in Hamilton.

The sorority also runs campus events such as “Chance on Campus,” a one-day event that gives grade 10 and 11 students the opportunity to experience post-secondary life at McMaster and learn about the university’s organizations and academic and financial resources.

When I look back and think why I wanted to join Nu Omega Zeta, I remember feeling very isolated and alone on campus in my first year,” said Gabriela Roberta, a member of the sorority.

“I had no intentions of joining a sorority. However, Nu Omega Zeta was the first and only organization to reach out to me and make me feel as though my fears are not only my own,” said Roberts.

Roberts added that the sorority immersed her in a community of women that truly understood her struggles and concerns.

She strongly feels that Nu Omega Zeta has been a transformative life experience.

For Jet'aime Fray, another member of Nu Omega Zeta, the sorority means sisterhood. Fray explains that the sorority has allowed for her to create long lasting friendships and has given her a unique opportunity to volunteer in Hamilton.

In a society that refuses to acknowledge Black women, having a space that allows you to be unapologetically who you are and celebrates you is very needed,” said Antai, who feels that the space Nu Omega Zeta provides to acknowledge Black women is much needed and can give many students a home away from home.

Julianne Providence joined Nu Omega Zeta for precisely this reason.

I saw it as a space where I could belong. I had seen the ladies on campus and admired the connections they had with each other,” said Providence.

Omega Zeta hosts a number of initiatives throughout the year, including rush events, parties, relationship summits, workshops, networking events about education and support in the Black community and a ‘World AIDS Day’ panel discussion.

Students interested in attending these events or becoming a part of the sorority can get more information on Nu Omega Zeta’s website.

 

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Photos C/O USC Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive

If you’re an avid reader of the Silhouette, then you’d know our annual rendition of Sex and the Steel City, much like the paper itself, has evolved quite a bit over the past couple of years.

Putting together this year’s sex-positive publication meant embracing the diverse ideas around sexuality, love and health. It’s about creating a non-judgemental space where experiences can be shared, identities are expressed and art can be enjoyed.

Through Sex and the Steel City we were also able to explore Hamilton’s history, challenge the issues our communities’ face and open eyes to future possibilities with passion and dedication.  

Every word and visual in this issue is also a reflection of the privileged position we, as a publication, are in to unapologetically express ourselves. A position that has been continuously denied to people historically and as of late.

For this reason our cover includes re-creations of stills from the recently discovered film Something Good - Negro Kiss. Directed by William Selig in 1898, the film depicts the earliest on-screen kiss between two Black stage entertainers and challenges the racist caricature prevalent in popular culture. In the 29-second silent film, Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown convey undeniable expression of love, pleasure and happiness.


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Stills from Something Good - Negro Kiss, a silent short film directed by William Selig in 1898 and starring Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown. The film was discovered and restored by University of Southern California archivist Dino Everett and identified by University of Chicago scholar Allyson Field.

 

We hope to continue the conversation around barriers that continue to marginalize identities today while also celebrating everything good they have to share.

Sex and the Steel City is a hopeful expression that love will prevail.

 

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Photos by Catherine Goce

By: Donna Nadeem

On Jan. 22, Arig al Shaibah, the associate vice-president (Equity and Inclusion) with the McMaster equity and inclusion office, held an event in the Mills Library Connections Centre centered around McMaster’s “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Framework and Strategy.”

During her term, al Shaibah plans to engage with local and historically underrepresented and marginalized communities to understand and learn about their challenges.

She hopes this awareness will enable her to build strong ideas and strategies to advance the equity and inclusion goals at McMaster.

The event begin with al Shaibah’s presentation on McMaster’s EDI framework and strategy.

McMaster’s EDI framework is broken down into four pillars: institutional commitment and capacity, educational content and context, interactional capabilities and climate and compositional diversity and community engagement.

 

The first pillar aims to “mobilize McMaster’s commitment and capacity to advance inclusive excellence by establishing and resourcing structures, systems, policies and processes that facilitate equity, diversity and inclusion leadership, governance and accountability.”

The second pillar seeks to strengthen academic programs, practices and scholarships to ensure they “demonstrate relevance… to diverse local, regional, national and global communities.”

The third pillar focuses on improving the McMaster community’s ability to foster a culture of inclusion and an environment where members feel “a sense of dignity and belonging.”

The fourth pillar aims to engage marginalized communities on campus, enhance employment equity, and improve student access and success amongst historically underrepresented students and community members.

“Not everyone here feels included, so even among our diverse [community population], some of us may feel included and others not, in part because of inequities that exist,” said al Shaibah.

Al Shaibah explained an action plan that would help facilitate the development of the EDI plan.

Some of the points included developing goals across the institution and faculties and integrating the EDI into academic programs and self-reported student experiences, strengthening complaint resolution from harassment and discrimination complaints and increasing training for McMaster community members and committees.

Throughout the presentation, al Shaibah spoke in abstract terms, not outlining specific initiatives that the university will undertake take to improve student access and success amongst marginalized students and training for McMaster community members.

After the presentation, the floor was open for students to express concerns and feedback.

Students asked for more clarity about McMaster’s plans to meet the objectives stipulated in the EDI.

Even after students pressed further, Shaibah still failed to clarify what in particular she would do to work to combat the problems she raised.

One student expressed concern over the fact that his friend who is of Indigenous descent was not able to obtain a Teaching Assistant position for an Indigenous course while a student who was not of Indigenous heritage successfully secured the position.

Al Shaibah responded that if the candidates’ qualifications were equal, the Indigenous students’ application should have been prioritized.

Students also asked about whether other universities have implemented this EDI framework and whether it has been successful for them.

Al Shaibah said that some schools have explored strategies similar to this, but have not pursued an ‘across the board’ strategy that applied to faculties across the entire institution.

In addition, students asked how they could get involved with the implementation of the strategy.

According to Al Shaibah, McMaster students can promote the EDI framework through clubs and the McMaster Students Union. Students can also contact McMaster’s equity and inclusion office at equity@mcmaster.ca.

 

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Photos by

By Nina Gaind

Walking through Supercrawl felt different this year. I felt weird about the presence of five Toyota cars positioned directly across from an art installation. I also felt a bit out of place, as many local faces and businesses from the past had disappeared, replaced by shiny new coffee shops and boutiques. The unoccupied lot beside CBC Hamilton was empty, where in past years it has been populated by local artists selling their unique DIY crafts and teenagers hanging out in the back (do you know what I’m referring to?).

Despite these changes, the thing that made me the most uncomfortable was the couple comments I heard from Supercrawl goers, referring to Hamilton and the space they were occupying. I heard people making jokes while in a long time standing James Street North shop, laughing about how outdated and cringe it was. I heard people snickering at the presence of homeless folks, and making a joke out of the poverty in Hamilton. These deeply unsettling comments symbolize a larger problem with the changing scene in Hamilton, and the language people use causes further harm to the people being pushed out of these social spaces.

Growing up in a town on the edge of Hamilton, I noticed ways in which people spoke about Hamilton. People talked about the city’s poverty with disdain, associating low-income areas with crime, rather than compassionately understanding the drive behind the perceived danger. With the recent wave of gentrification, more people from outside of the downtown area have been spending time in in the downtown core, changing how the city is perceived. This is exemplified in streets like James Street North and Barton Street being described as “up and coming”, while not even 2 km away there are some of the highest poverty rates in the country. With this rapid gentrification, Hamiltonians who have historically occupied these spaces are being pushed further and further away from these areas. For example, an affordable housing project in the North End was recently bought out by investors, leaving people who relied on this without homes. As a student who spends time in these spaces, I listen as the language used to describe people of low-income neighbourhoods becomes increasingly harmful and offensive. Local Hamiltonians are spoken about in ways that stigmatize their lived experience calling certain areas “sketchy”, “ghetto” and “ratchet”. These terms are highly racialized and classist, and do nothing but further the marginalization low-income people face throughout the development of Hamilton.

This issue is highly complicated and has many layers to it. Gentrification is not a simple concept, as development in the city has positive and negative consequences. As a student, I want to use my voice and privilege to acknowledge the power I and my peers have when we occupy spaces downtown. Students are positioned in a very grey area when it comes to gentrification and development. On one hand, we are not the people directly investing and developing land in Hamilton, rising rent prices and pushing low-income folks to the margins. On the other hand, we engage and spend time in these new coffee shops and stores, supporting local businesses and enjoying these spaces. While we might think our presence as students is trivial, our identities as students give us social power. Our identities as educated individuals give us more mobility to access physical and social spaces than local Hamiltonians. It is important for us to be mindful of this fact and reflect upon how and why we perceive others to be different from us. This being said, I recognize that university students come from diverse  backgrounds and experience oppression in many aspects of society and this should not be ignored when talking about this issue.

This city belongs to the very Hamiltonians we ridicule. As we continue to spend time in gentrified areas in Hamilton, we should be aware of the language we use when talking about others, specifically marginalized folks who are being negatively impacted by the cities changes. Using divisive language feeds the narrative that people who live in poverty are bad and dangerous, which physically and socially separates people more in society. When we start to change the tone of how we describe others, it can help to create more respectful relationships between people we may deem different from us. We must respect the history of Hamilton and recognize presence of poverty, looking to the root causes of inequality. I am hopeful that we as students can continue to enjoy Hamilton while being mindful of our identities and interact more positively with local Hamilton community members.

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Photo by Grant Holt

By Lilian Obeng

Over the course summer, city council voted in favour of paying public tribute to Hamilton’s LGBTQ+ community. The intersections in front of city hall and McMaster University, Summers Lane at Main Street West and Sterling Street respectively, now don brightly coloured trans and pride flags.

The decision was met with praise across the board. McMaster University specifically seized on the opportunity to integrate the new crosswalks into their overall public-relations strategy — tweets, Facebook posts and even an Instagram post. A bright, simple and public display of support for a marginalized community, such as this, is unlikely to encounter many challenges. But as a queer student who has been on this campus for upwards of three years, these crosswalks are only a bleak reminder of the actual priorities of the university’s administration.

Symbolic gestures, such as these crosswalks, can be important political statements. Given the current political climate, I would be remiss if I did not highlight the need to remain firm and resolute in our solidarity with the marginalized. However, what purpose do rainbow crosswalks serve when the university fails to ensure the safety of its LGBTQ+ community?

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bl_XGqvnAcL/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

 

This was best illustrated by Jordan Peterson’s visit to our campus, and the university’s dismal response to staff, student and faculty outcry. In March 2017, a McMaster Students Union ratified club invited Peterson to campus to speak on ‘political correctness.’ Needless to say, the visit was marred with controversy from its planning stages all the way through to Peterson’s arrival.

Peterson rose to prominence for refusing to use his trans students correct pronouns at the University of Toronto, citing the mere act of respecting students as compelled speech and infringing on his own rights. He has since gone on to accrue a host of misogynistic and racist views. Peterson’s bigoted diatribes have earned him legions of right-wing and white supremacist support as well as personal wealth.

Needless to say, all of this information was presented multiple times to multiple levels of the university. The President’s Advisory Council on Building and Inclusive Community brought students, staff and faculty together to lucidly explain the potential threat Peterson’s visit could pose to already vulnerable people. Our concern was met with silence, and in these times, silence is complicity.

Peterson supporters — supporters that had absolutely no affiliation with McMaster or the broader Hamilton community, physically assaulted student protesters. Members of PACBIC faced weeks of harassment both in-person and online from Peterson’s fans. The university has made little to no attempt to ameliorate this situation. The only action that has been taken were the creation of guidelines for event planners — guidelines that demonstrate that the university’s understanding of the free speech debate is informed entirely by right-wing propaganda and not the social realities that are present on our campus.

The fact remains that if our struggles cannot be moulded or integrated into the existing public relations strategy of the university, our legitimate concerns fall by the wayside. Our pointed policy solutions, our calm consultations, and even our protests are either tokenized, such as with these crosswalks, or minimized and placed aside. The LGBTQ+ community deserves more than this spectacle.

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