By Brenda Duke
Gibson and Landsdale are two small neighbourhoods in the north end of Ward 3. We are made up largely of single family homes, mostly single moms, renters, refugees and mobility impaired citizens. A large percentage of our residents have not completed secondary education, hold precarious jobs or are unemployed. The census profile from 2021 Profile table, Census Profile, 2021 Census of Population – L8L [Forward sortation area<sup>©</sup>], Ontario (statcan.gc.ca) shows a total population of 32, 310 , 5,575 of those are children under the age of 14.
Our two neighbourhoods are blessed with parks, playgrounds, splash pads and pools for those five thousand plus children to escape the confines of small yards and apartments. Very few who live here have the means to travel to parks and recreation beyond their area and most cannot afford summer camps and paid programming.
Luckily we have Woodlands Park, a large 1.5 hector space with upgraded playgrounds, basketball court and soccer field and the plan for an extensive new splash pad. Birge Park is smaller but the pool is new and very popular. J.C. Beamer is small but there’s a playground, splash pad and free city programming. Powell Park as well is equipped for younger children with two playground areas, swings, a new basketball court, splash pad and a wading pool staffed by the city plus a suppie program. Free programming is offered at the Clubhouse.
The other thing these parks all have are encampments. Some a few, others up to 38 at last count. There is an increase in crime among these encampments that range from drug overdoses, stabbings and rape to murder. Police cars and ambulances are a daily occurrence; the city spends countless hours and money repairing the washrooms and hiring waste management to pick up the garbage collected and tossed by those living in the tents.
As a result, parents hesitate to let their children go to the parks alone and rightfully so. Programming is stopped at J.C. Beemer for “health and safety” reasons. Yet, the splash pad is still open and the playground equipment is sitting there. As a child, with no other option than a hot, stuffy apartment or a sidewalk to play on the temptation is strong. It’s not safe for city staff, how can it be safe for children? The city has chosen to help the homeless over providing for our children, our seniors and our neighbours. As one resident states; “These parks serve inner-city kids many of whom come from families without the resources to offer them any other summer recreation. The decision to allow encampments in parks is going to have long-term effects on the most vulnerable/impressionable citizens of the city. Short term lack of courage and vision is going to result in long-term pain.”
The closure of park programs and pools has a long term effect on the social wellbeing of our children and our marginalized residents. Our children suffered through two years of lock downs, restrictions, no programs and online schooling. Now, they are asked to continue suffering. We are asking the city to put whatever security is needed in place to ensure that our children can play like children should, interact with their friends and enjoy their childhood.
Our city has passed a new encampment protocol and we are both anxious and leery of what that will mean. We will need to continue to be vigilant until we have been satisfied that what we hear is what will happen.
If Hamilton is really “the best place to raise a child” then give them back their parks and if Hamilton is really “the best place to age successfully” help us stop being scared to leave our homes and let us enjoy the abundance of parks and greenspaces that the community has helped take care of that improve our “Code Red” neighbourhoods.