Hamilton has voted to allow homeless encampments in parks, as legal battles rage over tearing encampments down.
The B.C. decision said a city must have enough shelter spots available to house those displaced when encampments are removed.
Decisions since then, including the Waterloo decision, have taken further steps to say cities must have certain types of shelter available. For example, the city might have to accommodate couples, allow people to come and go without curfew, and permit drug use onsite. In addition, there must be a sufficient supply of “low-barrier” and “accessible” shelter beds, and these are some of the factors considered by the courts in determining availability.
Hamilton’s city council voted 10–6 on Aug. 18 to allow encampments, or clusters of shelters. Encampments must, however, be limited to five tents each and be at least 50 metres apart from one another. Additionally, they must be at least 50–100 metres away from schools, daycares, playgrounds, and the like and be located at least 10 metres away from private property.
City Councillor Esther Pauls voted against allowing the encampments. “It’s a lose-lose situation,” she told The Epoch Times by email.
People who live near the parks and use them for recreation are exposed to drug use, violence, and criminality, she said. And people who live in the encampments are themselves often victims of crime and violence.
Homeless people from all around are likely to flock to Hamilton, Ms. Pauls said.
It’s the only city in Ontario to formally allow park encampments, lawyer Sima Atri told The Epoch Times.
“Even before the amended protocol was passed, I was aware that homeless encampments in Hamilton have attracted homeless from other communities in the Golden Horseshoe, Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and Niagara Region,” Ms. Pauls said.
“My fear now is with a homeless encampment protocol, the homeless population in Hamilton will grow, and such a skewed number will provide a disproportionate pressure on the City to care for homeless individuals beyond our city boundaries.”
She echoed the call that has rung out from city officials across the country on the issue, who all say the provincial and federal governments need to provide funds to address homelessness.
“We’ve given Hamilton over $27 million for shelters,” he said. “You have to look at the communities around there, the families and kids who go to these parks. You can’t have encampments there—you just can’t. You don’t see them, obviously, in the winter. So they’re living somewhere,” he said.
Court decisions have said cities wanting to dismantle encampments must have shelter available for those displaced. Otherwise, it violates their right to liberty as outlined in Section 7 of the charter.
As with all charter rights, it must be balanced against the rights of others, and this is where the case-by-case applications come in.
Those cases established that alternative shelter must be “low-barrier” and “accessible.” It’s not just about having 500 spots for 500 displaced people, for example.
The 2009 case has stronger force as a precedent, TVO noted, because it was upheld by an appeal court, whereas the Waterloo decision was made by a lower court.
What defines “low-barrier” and “accessible” will likely continue to be determined in the courts, along with municipalities’ power to remove encampments.
“Homeless encampments lack wrap-around supports and services to assist homeless individuals, such as mental health professionals,” Ms. Pauls said.
“I continue to be opposed to homeless encampments in public parks,” she said, calling them part of “ineffective patchwork solutions to a very serious problem.”