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Hamilton becomes latest Ontario city to declare state of emergency over homelessness, other crises

Posted in Canada, Featured

Published on April 13, 2023 with No Comments

City council voted unanimously Wednesday to make declaration.

Hamilton city council voted unanimously Wednesday to declare a state of emergency related to homelessness, opioid addiction and mental health, following several emotional comments and pleas to the province for more help.

The motion, which passed the emergency and community services committee last week, was at council for final approval. It passed 15-0, with Ward 7 Coun. Esther Pauls the only member absent.

While declaring a state of emergency doesn’t result in more money from senior levels of government, it’s a way for the city to call for change, especially if other municipalities pass similar motions, Coun. Brad Clark told the committee last week.

On Wednesday, he spoke of overflowing shelters in the city that regularly turn individuals and families away, and of staff burnout at some of those facilities, where employees are leaving the work because they are unable to help everyone who needs it.

“They didn’t fail, the province failed them,” said Clark, who first proposed the motion and has emerged as a strong voice on council for people experiencing homelessness and drug users. “All of the agencies that are supposed to help [are saying], ‘We’re sorry, there’s no room.'”

Council asks the province for long-term housing funding

The motion states Hamilton has invested millions of “unsustainable” local property tax dollars into programs and services, but the “exceptionally complex” challenges continue to have “a significantly detrimental impact” on communities.

According to city data, as of February, there were nearly 1,500 people experiencing homelessness in Hamilton.

To help address that, and other crises, the motion calls for the Ontario government to:

  • Allow for more than 21 consumption and treatment service sites in the province (its current funding cap).
  • Expand access to medications that prevent opioid withdrawal and reduce use such as methadone and buprenorphine.
  • Provide long-term funding for affordable and supportive housing.

Hamilton’s emergency declaration is based on the one Niagara Region council passed in March. Other Ontario cities have also declared similar emergencies. Ottawa was the first in Canada to declare a homelessness and housing emergency, in February 2020.

Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann pointed out Wednesday that Ontario is the only province in Canada that does not fund affordable housing, something she said it abandoned in the 1990s, setting the stage for the crisis cities are facing today.

In this year’s budget, Hamilton council earmarked an additional $16.4 million for housing, including $4 million to help non-profits develop affordable housing and $2.6 million to enhance service at the YWCA’s transitional living program, which offers housing for up to two years for women.

Nann also hinted at a coming motion to address repairs at local public housing units.

“There is a scenario where many residents who are seeking shelter have nowhere to go,” she said.

Jim Dunn, a McMaster University professor of health, aging and society and director of the Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative, says it could take a groundswell of similar declarations from other municipalities to get the province’s attention. He said that little has changed in Niagara since making its similar declaration.

“Maybe it takes a couple municipalities to take leadership on it and the rest will fall in line,” he told on Wednesday. “That’s the next step.”

“It is possible to find [housing units], but even more importantly needed… are supports for people who have significant issues with addiction” or mental health issues, he said. “Those are the groups particularly at risk here.”

 

 

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