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Local Accessibility Policy Asks in Collaboration with the Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN)

Today, the Hamilton Encampment Support Network released a statement with policy asks, relating to housing in Hamilton. This is in response to the court ruling today, which deemed that homelessness is a choice, therefore allowing the legal dismantling of encampments in public parks.

We know through our work on the ground that a significant amount of folks in Hamilton who experience homelessness have some sort of visible or invisible disability.

The Disability Justice Network of Ontario (DJNO) supported in the development of HESN accessibility policy requests below:

"As we’ve stated before, the encampment protocol was never a solution for encampment residents and our houseless community members. It is disheartening that members of our Hamilton community have spent time before the winter months to dispute and restructure a protocol that was never a solution, a protocol that was ultimately committed to harassing and evicting encampment residents. Winter poses the most imminent threat to our community members, and a protocol, in any form, that does not guarantee access to free, adequate, accessible and safe housing, does not ensure encampment members will survive the winter months.

We call upon the City of Hamilton to immediately take action to ensure encampment members have the means to survive the winter. This includes making available additional beds, public warming and respite centres, and ensuring accessibility limitations to shelter beds and spaces are removed. Some suggestions* that will work to support the survival of our community members during the winter include:

*These policy suggestions are adapted propositions from the wonderful Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan released Shelter and Housing Justice Network of Toronto.

Accessibility Policies in Shelters

  1. Shelters systems are reactive measures to systemic failure of governments to offer housing to all members of the public. Shelter systems are spaces where members of our community are subjected to strict qualification requirements and can even be banned from accessing shelter spaces. Shelter systems, like other systems which seek to criminalize members of the public rather than prioritize alternatives, must be abolished.

  2. Establishment of a Shelter Advisory Committee of present and past shelter residents advise on improving shelter operations and appropriate housing options. Consultations should include discussions about accessibility, vaccine uptake, and general administration.

  3. Pending the access of all to safe, dignified housing, the City of Hamilton will unilaterally adopt accessibility policies around harm reduction, including but not limited to:

  4. Policy around the right to exist in shelter space as you are, including but not limited to allowing use of drugs in shelters

  5. Identifying shelters friendly to drug users

  6. Funding shelters to permanently hire staff trained in safe consumption

  7. Collaborate with shelter residents who use drugs to determine and help implement what harm reduction policies, programs and practices work best for the residents at the sites where they reside.

  8. Shelter systems are spaces where members of our community are subjected to strict qualification requirements and can even be banned from accessing shelter spaces due to what is often called disruptive behaviour. The labelling of disability related and mental health related symptoms as disruptive is ableist, and this practice must end.

  9. Only two accessible women's shelters exist in Hamilton. The City of Hamilton must build more.

  10. There is no housing standard through the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, though disability activists at the AODA alliance have pushed for this for years. The City of Hamilton must be in compliance with AODA, but also work beyond AODA to ensure these policies centre accessibility

  11. The City of Hamilton will secure accessible temporary housing options specifically for people with disabilities immediately.

  12. Keep shelter bed access transparent. The City of Hamilton must publicize daily Wrap-up Code data (no suitable bed available at time of call) and Service Queue Daily Close-out (no bed provided by 4 AM), information made online for access by all."

The full HESN statement can be viewed here:

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