Homeless Encampments In Hamilton During Covid-19 Pandemic
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the residents of Hamilton have watched homeless encampments around the city rise and fall. In October 2020, the city of Hamilton began dismantling encampments across the city. Now in January 2021, we continue to see encampments all over the city, despite The City Of Hamilton’s "claim of ensuring that people experiencing homelessness receive the support they need…"(City Of Hamilton Encampment Response).
The local shelters have given the city their best efforts, but they are busting at the seams and COVID-19 outbreaks are starting to appear. No doubt because of the overpopulation in the shelters. With our province averaging over 3,000 cases a day, we need a solution to support our homeless population, even if it is not permanent. According to CBC, “Hamilton's waitlist for affordable housing stands at 5,000 households.” That is a three to five-year wait. We desperately need solutions to help our homeless population; without mass encampments or overwhelming our shelters. After Hamilton was placed in the “grey zone” on December 21st, all non-essential buildings and businesses closed. This includes many city facilities such as community centres. A new proposal from citizens of Hamilton, Project Home, plans to use city-owned community and recreation centres to act as emergency shelters for our homeless population. Project Home would be providing these buildings with staff and supplies directed towards helping lessen the encampments across the city while preventing overwhelmed shelters. The community centre, Bernie Morelli, for example, is a relatively brand-new recreation centre with multiple gymnasiums, activity rooms, common areas, bathrooms, and locker rooms. Converting some of these readily available community centres into emergency shelters with the proper staff would be a game-changer. Bernie Morelli's basketball gymnasium alone is 6,300 square feet. Even while maintaining a 2-meter distance between each cot, dozens of beds fit into that space. Merely finding a place for our homeless community to sleep is not the only problem this plan aims to minimize. According to The Mental Health Commission Of Canada, "between 25-50% of the homeless population in Canada suffer from a mental illness(es)." (Trainer et al. Turning the Key Assessing Housing and Related Supports for Persons Living with Mental Health Problems and Illness). To best support our homeless community in these emergency shelters we need more than beds. We need mental health professionals, cooks for the commercial kitchen, volunteers and general shelter staff. Restoration Mental Health Agency has generously offered up its services to this cause. Their professional psychotherapists have been trained to deal with the type of mental health struggles that much of your homeless community faces such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and much more. Although this may seem like a tremendous and expensive task to take on, with fundraising, charitable donations, and city support it is more than possible. “The City of Hamilton says it spent around $60 thousand per month on security and waste collection to maintain the larger downtown encampment sites…It spent $133,919 on external legal services…” (Rankin Here's how much the city says it cost to maintain large tent encampments | CBC News). The City Of Hamilton has spent $733,919 on these two expenses for encampments since March. Although this project may be costly, it may not be much more than what we are already spending on an unsustainable and dangerous option.
Project Home is a more than plausible option to help reduce the strain of shelter, provide more space to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks and provide our homeless population with proper support. Our homeless population deserves our support in this perilous time. If you are looking for ways to support Project Home, there are many ways to do so. Express your support by signing their petition, Project Home, on change.org. Donate to their Project Home GoFundMe to help fund this solution. Lastly, The Arkells have generously offered to hold a virtual concert with all proceeds donated to this cause. Visit the Arkells Official Website for more details. The time for ignoring this city's homeless population is over. The time for change has begun.