By Brenda Duke

Further to the introduction of an article in this publication by the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS), as well as the Mayoral announcement on November 18th, I want to comment on the public meetings held on November 17th. There were two meetings held, both well-attended. I was present at the evening meeting and want to offer my take-away.

The meeting was attended by a group of impassioned residents and businesses who reside close to the proposed development (see announcement for details) site at the corner of Barton St. and Earl St., with years of lived experience in the surrounding neighbourhood. Most of the attendees fully supported the concept of the proposed project (as a reasonable alternative to tent encampments), but more so questioned the protocol that was taken to elicit consultation from neighbourhood members. Much of the frustration centered on the failure to involve the community members until after a decision was made.

It should be noted, first and foremost, that the proposal failed to meet two of the criteria outlined in their guide of their own “must-have” requirements:

1) Their own document notes that the lot size should be 0.75 to 2 acres – this site is about 1/4 the minimum size (i.e. it is 23% of 0.75 of an acre)

2) There should be minimal impact to residential neighborhoods. The plan really does not mitigate impact or really consider the neighbourhood at all.

This proposal is using land in the Gibson neighbourhood but there is no guarantee that the building’s residents will be from the Gibson neighbourhood. It’s unclear how this might impact the neighbourhood, and does not seem to give specific consideration to our neighbours who are unhoused or living with unstable housing.

At first glance, the program offers many good features that support dignified living, but to each point there is always a counterpoint to consider:

Residents will be given a key that only they have (there is no master key)
Every landlord is required to have a master key in case of an emergency or to check the status of the property
On-site staff will support the cabin community
No clear information on what that support might entail
Social services will schedule regular healthcare visits, street outreach, etc.

No specific schedules in place
Residents who take care of the site and the neighbourhood will be paid

Will they be paid by the site managers or the local businesses?
Everyone is invited to take part in daily community activities such as recreation, music, and art

They mentioned nearby libraries etc
There will be the opportunity for residents to expand skills and gain course credits

No clear training programs in place at this time
They provide on-site trained security to monitor the residents’ personal property and act as an emergency contact, but otherwise, any theft or damage in the community would fall on our police services

There have already been many incidents related to the slow response of our already over-loaded police and by-law services

I first became aware of this proposal on Monday, November 14th. I then attended a meet-and-greet with the organizers on November 15th, which was attended by about 20 people. It was only then that we learned of two public meetings being held on November 17th prior to the official announcement scheduled for November 18th. Letters were mailed to the area on November 15th and received by the residents on the 17th. We learned that there had been discussions and plans in place since June and the site secured in August but nothing made public.

As one community member noted during the presentation, “This process is part of a disturbing trend where residents have to read about the introduction of challenging social services in the newspaper.  There seems to be no regard for seniors trying to age in community, safety for kids and vulnerable people, or the impact on local businesses. The social service sector has lost our trust and needs to build bridges if these services are to gain support and cooperation from the community.”

There were informed, direct questions put to the organizers, but many responses were vague and non-committal with promises to take the questions back to the team for consideration.

They are asking for a community liaison team to help provide feedback and resolve issues that may arise. Many felt that should have been done prior to completing the deal. We all know that you cannot un-ring a bell and it’s harder to get change than to establish the correct procedures and policies in the first place.

My summary of the final thoughts of those attending:

Not as organized as it needs to be
No guarantee that the tenants they are accepting will come from the Gibson neighbourhood
No indication how this will help our neighbourhood’s homeless members
No notice to the residents in the year they’ve been planning the program
Financing is not transparent
No lived experience in the neighbourhood
Over-concentration of high acuity services in the Shipley, Gibson, Landsdale, and Stinson neighborhoods; the “North End” of Ward 3 has become a “dumping ground”

A few comments from the group:

“After attending the public information session I’m not sure this pilot is going to work. Great in theory poor execution. More planning and front line consultation is needed.”

“We’re seen as a bad neighbourhood and in some ways it is but it’s our neighbourhood and our homes and we love it”

“We are losing pieces of our neighbourhoods but have no say in anything. Others are deciding what we need instead of listening to us”

“All good ideas that hit all the buttons but unless they have lived across from an encampment, they really don’t understand the realities”

My personal comment on the HATS program: It is a valiant effort by a group of volunteers to address an ongoing and increasing problem, but we (as citizens and volunteers) can only do so much without financial and progressive support from our city to find permanent housing solutions. Quick-fix, temporary measures only prolong the problem.