Small shelters: Alliance wants to build ‘worthy’ community for homeless people at Hamilton site in the city center

A coalition of anti-poverty hope local officials support a plan to build a pint-sized hut for homeless people on the grounds of a high school with shutters in downtown Hamilton.

The Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HOEDS) intends to use part of the former Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School property for a temporary community intended to bridge gaps between housing and the street.

The project is not a solution to homelessness, but a safer stop than tents and stairs, said Tom Cooper, a member of the HATS steering committee.

“It is an idea that progressive communities are very intrigued and sees as an opportunity to keep people in a dignified situation while finding more permanent solutions.”

On Monday night, public school board trustees agreed to order staff to work with city officials and HATS to investigate the temporary use of the site for the project.

Next, alliance representatives plan to make their submission to city councilors on Thursday in anticipation of zoning arrangements that may be necessary.

To begin with, HATS hopes to erect 10-12 small acres on the eight-acre Macdonald property, which is surrounded between Bay Street North, Hess Street North, York Boulevard and Cannon Street West.

Locally manufactured, the insulated cabins will be eight-by-10-feet and equipped with lighting, heat and a fire extinguisher. Each will have a small bar fridge and microwave.

The plan is to have bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities in a shipping container or trailer. The project also envisions a kitchen where residents and volunteers can cook meals.

Garbage will be picked up regularly and participants will try to keep the area clean of trash, said Cooper, who is also the director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

“It is our plan to make this a community and to ensure that people are proud of the homes and live together.”

Organizers said prospective tenants would be identified by medical specialists and agencies working with homeless people.

Cooper said the huts are not intended to serve as short-term accommodation such as emergency shelters, but serve as bridges to permanent housing. “People are going to get keys from their huts.”

HATS estimates the capital and operating costs of the first phase of 1 to 12 huts at about $ 200,000. For an additional $ 100,000, the community will expand to 20.

“We are already spending a lot of money on solutions that apparently do not work in the long run,” said Julia Kollek, another project organizer.

It’s “wonderful” what the city is pursue funding from higher levels of government for housing and health servicesKollek said.

“But these are all future plans. What we need now is something fast and cheap. ”

This winter, shelters are at or near capacitystruggling with COVID-19 outbreaks and experiencing staff shortages and burnout.

Some people who live in city parks do not stay in shelters for various reasons, including struggling with addiction or mental illness. Others do not want to separate from partners or pets.

matches, which spread over Hamilton during the pandemichas become a source of polarizing debateespecially on the enforcement of an ordinance banning tents in parks.

Some housing advocates and police clashed with police while divisions within the council formed over approaches to people in tents.

“This is exactly what we want to end,” said Ted McMeekin, a former Liberal cabinet minister working on the project.

Camp residents tend to foster a community among themselves, McMeekin added.

“We want to see that value reaffirmed and encouraged in an environment that is safer and more secure.”

A better tent city

McMeekin points to A better tent citya 50-acre community of small huts in Kitchener as an example of what can be achieved in Hamilton.

The community, which was founded nearly two years ago, has relocated more than once, but is now located on a city-owned road grant and a public school board property.

“For the residents, it changed their lives,” Jeff Wilmer, co-founder and board member, told The Spectator.

A Better Tent City has one full-time site coordinator who lives on site, but the initiative relies on a variety of collaborative agencies, Willmer noted.

Monthly operating costs of about $ 20,000 are mostly covered by shelter grants deducted from residents’ social assistance, he said. Fundraising and grants fill the gaps.

“The residents, once it’s their home, make it their own,” Willmer said.

Rather than rules, residents agree to stick to “commitments,” he said.

“To boil it down, it’s really respectful to each other and to your neighbors for your whole community.”

A Better Tent City, which recognizes that some residents use drugs, follows a harm-reduction approach, Willmer said.

“We realized that is why some people are still in the cold and that is why we do not have such a barrier.”

A methadone treatment program is delivered to the site to about a third of the residents. A doctor visits once a week while a pharmacist is there daily. A mobile health bus is there twice a week.

From tents to huts?

In Hamilton, the number of people living in tents ranged from 80 to 140 people, city officials said. More recently, amid the cold weather30 to 35 people are known to be outdoors.

Last month, at her small camp along Queenston Avenue East, Murielle Servais said the idea of ​​an approved site of small cottages makes sense.

With the right policies, it can reduce concerns about robbery and prevent garbage from accumulating outside, she said.

“People who come in can not bring in their big cars rubbish because there will be rules.”

Trustees initially hoped to establish a community center at the Sir John A. Macdonald site which would be anchored in a new primary school.

But late last year, the council learned that the province had rejected its funding application for a second time to move forward with the pivot point, leading to the initiative’s downfall.

Sir John A. Macdonald was closed in 2019 following an accommodation review. Early in the pandemic, the city has cleared a camp which formed on the site of the empty building.

Kollek told trustees on Monday that HAT would be ready to move the small huts should the board need the property for future plans. Meanwhile, they are looking for other potential sites, she said.

In addition to the Roundtable, the alliance counts Hamilton’s Social Planning and Research Council, the Hamilton Community Law Clinic, Indwell, and the First Unitarian Church of Hamilton among its core organizers.

But a myriad of organizations, including other churches, social service agencies and health care providers, have also expressed interest in offering their support for the project.

“It was just an amazing project moving so fast,” said Kollek, who noted that organizers met with city staff ahead of Thursday’s submission to the emergency and community services committee.

Hamilton police meanwhile say the HAT project “falls in line” with the service’s various crisis response teams, including Social Navigator, which links police officers and paramedics.

“The small homes project is a creative idea and we look forward to playing a role in the conversation,” spokeswoman Jackie Penman wrote in an email.

Teviah Moro is a reporter for The Spectator. [email protected]

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