By Kinga Bobula
It could have been an exemplary use of the empty parking lot; the corner of Barton and Earl Street, a space where locals often dump their garbage under the cover of darkness. In a downtown area that is known for a high rate of people living in poverty. The pilot project of Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS) had everything ready to offer those living outside in inhumane conditions warm and safe sleeping cabins – secured, supervised, and supported. Not one hundred, not fifty, but ten for the few chosen ones to finally have their own little house.
That chance was taken away because of pushback from Ward 3 residents, who demonstrated an unwillingness to consider even some level of cooperation. Scaling down to fewer sheds may have been suggested as well as having a say in who moves into them. People with jobs who have no other home than their cars? Homeless youth? Seniors, who wish to age peacefully in a community? People with pets; like a woman and her cat that lived at the edge of Gage Park in a tent? Women? It didn’t have to be those with addictions. We single them out as “undesirables” because they scare us (unless they happen to be famous American actors and artists, some of whom died from an overdose), but not nearly as much as those who supply the drugs do. That is why the latter is not met with any harassment from the general public and is able to operate and often live in the neighborhood. Why such a reaction from the housed population toward the unhoused? Because there is no profit in taking care of others and the priority of interest is given to businesses and their owners.
The high rates of homelessness are due to the 40-year-long neglect by all levels of government in creating affordable housing. In 2013 Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton (sprc.hamilton.on.ca) created a 10-year “Hamilton Housing and Homelessness Action Plan” called “Everyone has a home”, which called for an increase in the investments and policies that would support such buildings. The report warned that if strategies were not implemented, in 10 years (2023) there would be major negative social and economic consequences and the number of households on the social housing waitlist would double. It did.
Certain ordinary citizens are not waiting another 40 years for something to be done and partner to bring relief to those outside the shelter system. They organize, plan, fundraise for, and successfully create an alternative to tents. In Hamilton, the project was waiting for the agreed-upon site for quite a while; and now it will be delayed even further: another month, another season, another year. For those that are religious, I would like to remind them about the obligation to help the poor, which includes sheltering the homeless. In this instance, you had to do…nothing. For non-believers, I appeal to your moral compass. Society at large may not extend kindness to those who need it most, but let’s not prevent others from doing so.
In the meantime, the parking lot sits empty: a reminder of what it could have been but never will.
Editor’s note: Since the writing of this article, HATS presented again with recommendations to investigate other locations. The project was deferred until the next committee meeting because no prior community consultation was done on the chosen locations. HATS has announced that the location at Barton and Earl has been taken off their list of suitable locations.