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City to resume enforcement of Park bylaws following court ruling

HAMILTON, ON – Following the Superior Court’s decision today the City will resume enforcement of City by-laws that prohibit camping on City property, including park areas.

The City aims to continue upholding this bylaw in a way that is respectful and supportive to all involved. The City’ enforcement approach will continue take into consideration the safety and well-being of individuals experiencing homelessness, as well as the broader community needs, including access to green space for safe outdoor recreation.

In enforcing the City’s Parks Bylaw, Municipal Law Enforcement officers are the first point of contact when responding to park by-law violations, which allows the Housing Outreach team to remain focused on their core role of engaging and connecting unsheltered individuals to housing and available services. Ticketing those who are unsheltered will not be a course of action, though if necessary and after all efforts to connect individuals to appropriate alternative options are exhausted, a trespass notice would be issued. Once a trespass notice is issued continued occupation is a provincial offense enforced by Hamilton Police Services.

The City remains focused on continuing to support homeless individuals in securing safe and affordable housing, by taking an individualized approach to connect those experiencing homelessness with the available community resources and supports, including the variety of options available through the City’s housing continuum. Housing Services continues to monitor shelter capacity and enact plans in order to ensure the safe operation of spaces, and that there is capacity in the system. Hamilton’s shelter system capacity has grown by 166 beds from 341 emergency shelter beds to 507 emergency shelter beds. This includes a recent addition this month of 15 emergency shelter beds for single women experiencing homelessness at Emma’s Place, and 21 additional hotel spaces which serve couples, and individuals.

Staff are planning to bring a report to the December 7 Emergency & Community Services Committee that will provide more details about the City’s planning for transformation of the shelter system, capacity, and winter plans.

For more information about the City’s encampment response, visit www.hamilton.ca/social-services/housing/city-hamilton-encampment-response.

Quick facts

  • In 2021, the City committed an additional $950,000 in annual funding (year over year) towards a new shelter focused on addressing the unique needs of women, Indigenous women, trans-feminine, trans-masculine, and non-binary community members experiencing homelessness.
  • In June 2021, Hamilton Council approved further interventions in its post-COVID adaptation and transition plan for Hamilton’s housing and homelessness system which includes a one-time investment of $2 million for housing allowances for clients of City funded Intensive Case Management (ICM) programs providing 93 individuals or households with housing allowances that support their housing stability over the next four years.
  • In 2020 and 2021, the City’s Housing Services Division assisted in connecting over 440 homeless households, representing over 990 individuals and their families, with permanent housing.
  • In 2021, over $4 million will be invested specifically by the City of Hamilton towards social housing repairs supporting quicker turnaround of vacant units, bringing chronically offline units back online, and supporting energy retrofits. This includes a $2 million contribution in 2021 from the City of Hamilton’s Poverty Reduction Fund commitment of $20 million over 10 years investment towards social housing repair.
  • In 2020 over 700 households from Hamilton’s Access to Housing wait list were housed in rent-geared to income units, in the private market using portable housing benefits, and from intensive case management and Rapid Rehousing programs. In 2019, 595 households were housed from the wait list.
  • In 2021/2022 at least 400 new affordable housing units in Hamilton will break ground or be completed due to strategic investment on the part of the municipal, provincial and federal government.
  • Hamilton’s housing system receives contributions from all levels of government and invests approximately $120 million annually into the housing and homelessness system, including a $64 million municipal contribution in 2021.
  • Since the beginning of the pandemic through the Government of Ontario’s Social Service Relief funds the City directed $37 million into the housing and homelessness system response ensuring shelter operators could enact important COVID-19 protocols to reduce the risk of transmission for shelter clients and staff. These funds also ensured community drop-in programs could expand and maintain services for vulnerable residents from meals, showers, harm reduction supplies, and overnight access drop-in services.

Background

The City has seen an increase in the number of people sleeping rough in public spaces and in several City parks since the beginning of the pandemic. In August, City Council voted to return to its pre-pandemic enforcement strategy, which includes helping individuals sleeping rough find safe and humane housing and enforcing the City’s Park bylaw that prohibits camping or living on public property. On October 7, 2021, a court imposed temporary restrictions on the City’s enforcement of bylaws which prohibit camping and tents or other structures placed on public property.

On November 2, 2021, the court denied an application for an interlocutory injunction thereby allowing the City to resume enforcement of its bylaws. Here were some key excerpts from the Court’s decision:

  • “I am persuaded that accommodations such as shelters and hotels have been made available and are responsive to the needs of encampment residents with the provision of necessary social supports. It is not perfect, but most homeless occupants can be reasonably accommodated by the City. Accordingly, in considering the litigants and the homeless-at-large in Hamilton, the applicants have not met the burden of establishing harm to the public interest that would rationalize suspending the City’s ability to enforce its By-Law preventing camping and related activity in all of its parks. The relief sought would unjustifiably tie the City’s hands in dealing with encampments that raise serious health and safety concerns for an indefinite duration, and would unduly prevent the use of parks by others.
  • “No reasonable person in Canada would disagree with the proposition that homelessness, wherever and however it occurs, is a tragedy in Canada. However, the narrow issue before me is whether the City’s enforcement of the By-Law should be restrained by court order. It is not a wide-sweeping review of the underlying issue of whether more should be done to help the homeless.”
  •  “The evidence presented in this hearing buttresses the respondent’s position and demonstrates that the City has taken and continues to undertake reasonable steps in order to make available safe shelter space and accommodation. This is accompanied by the necessary community supports and other measures to address the evolving and cautiously improving state of the pandemic and the overall homeless issue in Hamilton.”

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