Day with Don: a Blog on the Issues that Matter
by Don Seymour, Executive Director
A letter to Hamilton City Council in Support of HATS
Dear Mayor and Council:
Homelessness. It is a national crisis and a national shame. Chronic homelessness in Hamilton is becoming more severe and people are struggling to survive the day. They are without hope, and many Hamiltonians are at grave risk of remaining in a cycle of addiction and mental health crisis that diminishes their dignity.
In Hamilton, homelessness is like a flood where we are up to our knees, and some in our community are already over their head.
In times of crisis, communities come together and respond. Hamilton is no different.
HATS is a group of citizens responding to this crisis, trying to provide temporary shelter for those in need, in the hope that people and governments with the means will invest in the transformational change needed.
As you are aware, for almost 70 years, Wesley has worked with those most chronically homeless through outreach and drop-in programs. Our staff revive people from overdose and assist individuals with serious mental illness as part of their daily work providing food, harm reduction supplies, and assistance in securing treatment and shelter.
We are part of a network of organizations supporting the HATS community. Social Research and Planning Council and Wesley assist with policy development and administrative support. Ongoing supports already accessed by those unhoused will continue as they are, including Social Navigators, HamSmart and the Shelter Health Network.
Wesley staff has unique expertise with mitigating the risks associated with supporting those most in need – skills that are often gained through lived experience and professional training.
HATS and other citizen-led responses must be supported as they are prepared to take on some heavy lifting to address this crisis. We need every little bit of help we can get. We are with them for as long as they are required to help shelter Hamiltonians from the rising floodwaters of homelessness. We see HATS as partners in developing a new continuum of service as we transition from the Wesley Day Centre to a new approach to addressing the root causes of homelessness.
It is cold outside, and the citizens of HATS want to provide warmth, shelter, support, and hopefully, a first step to recovery and contribution for Hamiltonians suffering from homelessness.
We hope Council will address this crisis with the urgency it deserves and ask that you to please support the HATS project.
Don Seymour Julie Vernon
Executive Director Chair, Wesley Board
Winter is Coming
In Hamilton there are thousands of people on waiting lists for affordable housing. Hundreds of homeless people on our streets. It is a crisis that has been brewing for decades. Every single level of government has given short shrift to the creation of affordable housing and the elimination of homeless over the past forty years. The most chronically homeless will need years of support and rehabilitation through our health and social services systems. Yet the intensive clinical housing services they need are virtually non-existent. Many die waiting for services.
Solutions are needed and a committed group of volunteers has come forward with a viable solution. Given the magnitude of the crisis one would think it would be given an enthusiastic fast track. Instead the exact opposite is happening. Politicians question the viability of the solution and drag their feet. Academics undermine the solution saying it is less than adequate. Many citizens in local neighbourhoods dealing with homelessness see the solution as increasing not ameliorating the problem.
This is what Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS) has been dealing with since their inception. These volunteers has been working incredibly hard for over a year to create a Tiny Shelter community. They have consulted with politicians, housing providers and homelessness service providers. More importantly they included persons of lived experience in the information gathering process. They have also researched and consulted with Tiny Shelter communities across the country. This is not a fly by the seat of your pants group. They are looking to create viable solutions to alleviate the homelessness crisis. Yet enthusiasm is conspicuously
My own organization, Wesley sees the value of citizen driven community development. Community development is in our DNA as Wesley began in much the same as HATS nearly 70 years ago. Committed citizens attempting to address serious community issues. When Wesley saw what HATS was attempting to do we sought to support and partner with them. To this end the Wesley Board authorized funds to support HATS with case management for a one-year pilot. In addition we sit at the table in an advisory capacity and have supplied the HATS group with policies and procedures and operational expertise. They are addressing an important need in Hamilton and creating an critically needed service in continuum of community based supports.
The clock is ticking with the worst parts of winter still ahead and HATS would like to be supporting people by December in Tiny Shelters. The plan is to support ten people initially, eventually enlarging the community to twenty people – as the model develops and more funds become available. This will not solve the problem, but it will solve the problem for ten and later twenty citizens of our community. It is a start.
Our community needs to roll out the red carpet for HATS and any others coming up with solutions to address this crisis. The City of Hamilton needs to expedite this process so people are given supports sooner rather than later. People that are homeless and on the streets can’t wait another winter for access to a roof over their heads or supports to stay there. No one should have to die from homelessness. Hamilton pulled out all the stops during Covid to protect the community. It is time to pull out all the stops to address homelessness. If we don’t try innovative solutions, we are continuing to add to the problem that has existed for decades. Hamilton has an opportunity to be a leader in this space. We hope the new Council will provide the political leadership that is needed to ensure every person in our city is housed and supported.