Research and Insights

Open Letter to the City of Hamilton on the Proposed Encampment Protocol

Jul 4, 2023 | All Publication, Housing and Homelessness

June 30, 2023

Michelle Baird
Director of Housing Services
City of Hamilton
71 Main St West
Hamilton, ON
L8P 4Y5

[via email]

Dear Ms. Baird:

RE: Open Letter to the City of Hamilton on the Proposed Encampment Protocol

Please accept this letter as the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton’s (SPRC) submission to the City of Hamilton’s public engagement on sanctioned encampment sites and the proposed encampment protocol.

Housing is a fundamental right now enshrined in both international and domestic law. The realization of this right is the responsibility of all levels of government and we appreciate the ongoing work by the City to develop long-term housing solutions that meet a spectrum of housing needs for Hamilton residents. However, in the context of the growing unaffordability crisis and drastic erosion of affordable housing stock in our city – a net loss of 4,950 rental units affordable to households with annual incomes $30,000 or less between 2016 and 2021 alone[1] – there are few immediate ‘fixes’ that will adequately meet community need.

As you are aware, emergency shelters in Hamilton have been facing a mounting capacity crisis, facing chronic staffing shortages as community need continues to far outpace the availability of beds. From April 2022 to April 2023, there was an average of 433 shelter spaces available per night, yet 1,615 people were considered actively homeless in April 2023[2], up from an average of 1,202 in 2021 and 1,024 in 2020[3]. This is likely a significant underrepresentation of the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in our community given the high rates of hidden homelessness, particularly amongst equity deserving groups. For every individual known to the system to be experiencing homelessness, it is estimated that there are three individuals who are experiencing hidden homelessness.[4]

While the present capacity of the shelter system simply cannot accommodate the number of people experiencing homelessness in Hamilton, shelter spaces are also not appropriate or accessible to all people deprived of housing for many reasons, including restrictions related to pets, inability to accommodate different-sex couples, feelings of insecurity in dorm-style settings, and restrictions related to substance use[5]. This was a notable factor in Ontario Superior Court Justice Valente’s ruling which dismissed the Region of Waterloo’s injunction application against an encampment in Kitchener. The ruling determined that when assessing shelter spaces consideration must be given to peoples’ unique needs, such as family make-up and substance use practices, in order to be considered “truly available”[6].

Encampments are not a housing solution in and of themselves, but can provide stability and often life-saving supports for residents. Homelessness has devasting consequences on physical and mental health. Toronto Public Health reported that the 2022 median age of death for people experiencing homelessness in Toronto was 55 for males and 42 for females, compared to the general population which was 79 years for males and 84 for females[7]. Mounting evidence from both academia as well as expert testimony in legal proceedings point to the significant, and potentially life-threatening harms caused by constant displacement, particularly in the context of the drug poisoning crisis. On the other hand, the congregate nature and reduced transience of encampments have been found to encourage connection with healthcare and other community services, decrease isolation, increase mental health stability, decrease risk of fatality due to drug poisoning, and foster a sense of community among residents[8].

In the absence of safe, adequate, and appropriate housing available to all Hamilton residents, and sufficient, accessible alternatives, SPRC strongly supports establishing a range of outdoor sheltering options for people deprived of housing, including sanctioned encampments, that:

  • Are developed through direct and meaningful consultation with encampment residents and unhoused members of our community (meaningful engagement is defined in SPRC submission to the Federal Housing Advocate Review on Homeless Encampment attached as Appendix A).
  • Respect individual autonomy and support the diverse needs and experiences of unhoused residents by allowing people to choose the sheltering option(s) that best suit their current circumstances and needs.
  • Are rooted in a deep understanding of how structural inequities and ongoing colonialism have led to the overrepresentation of certain populations, including Indigenous people, among residents who are unhoused, and embed an equity-based approach in the development, implementation, and evaluation of outdoor sheltering options.
  • For sanctioned encampments, consult encampment residents to determine the provision of adequate sanitation/hygiene facilities and drinking water as outlined in Proposed Encampment Protocol Report (HSC20038(f)/PED21188(c)) as well as waste removal services (including for drug equipment disposal) and fire safety equipment.

The Encampment Protocol:

SPRC acknowledges the extensive work undertaken by City staff in drafting the proposed encampment protocol and expresses appreciation of the shared principles, including a rights-based approach, which are central to the document.

After reviewing the protocol and appendices, we raise the following as additional considerations or points of clarity:

  • SPRC looks forward to additional information being made available on how a peer-based model and Indigenous supports may be embedded into the City’s encampment response, as outlined in recommendation (e) of the Proposed Encampment Protocol Report, as this is fundamental to a rights-based approach.

SPRC strongly supports the recommendation from the development sessions with community stakeholders to embed peer supports into the City’s coordination and outreach response and site clean-up processes, and to fairly remunerate peer workers.

  • Many community members have sought clarity on when and how police will be called on by the City to respond to an encampment within the framework of the protocol.

In line with a rights-based approach, SPRC strongly supports connecting encampment residents with appropriate health, cultural, and community-based supports and services wherever possible and does not condone the use of police enforcement tactics unless necessary as a last resort.

  • Given the overrepresentation of equity deserving groups among people who are unhoused, additional clarity is sought on how an equity-lens was applied in the development of the proposed protocol, as well as how it will be reflected in the protocol’s implementation.
  • Additional clarity is also needed on the City’s data collection related to encampment residents (at sanctioned sites and whose sheltering would fall under the protocol), including how information will be collected and used, and how data collected from encampment residents will inform program/service delivery and/or evaluation of the City’s encampment response. Additional details are also sought on outcomes or potential consequences if encampment residents choose not to provide requested information.
  • Considering the complexity of these issues, there is need for additional clarity on how the City will promote positive relationships, improved understanding, and the inclusion of encampment residents in Hamilton neighbourhoods.

The Community Engagement Process:

Solutions are only solutions if they work for the people for whom they are intended. For an effective strategy to support and respond to encampments in Hamilton, the City must prioritize continued ongoing meaningful engagement with encampment residents and people deprived of housing, including those not currently accessing services through the homeless serving sector.

SPRC is deeply committed to the principles of anti-hate and anti-discrimination and holds firmly to the belief that a person’s humanity or rights should not be up for debate. We also believe that community engagement, when carried out effectively, is a meaningful tool for change, and can encourage informed decision making, help facilitate understanding between convergent views, and support constructive dialogue. Community engagement can also offer an opportunity for education and can help combat misinformation. Weaving these fundamental principles together in community engagements is challenging, yet crucial, given the increasing polarization in communities.

Following the initial consultation meeting, we recognize that additional mechanisms to help provide psychological safety, and additional information concerning the City’s encampment response and the complex nature of this issue, was provided and helped set the stage for community dialogue.  And as the City moves forward with its commitment to increase meaningful engagement on critical issues, we encourage the City to:

  • Consult with the broader community from the onset of the proposal and design it in such a way as to emphasize education to proactively challenge misinformation concerning encampment residents
  • Participate in front-end consultations with community that are accessible and safe to all who may want to participate
  • Provide and communicate a transparent process for ongoing consultation and reporting back mechanisms through a variety of channels. This includes how information collected will be used to inform decision making

How our community can better support commonality and bridge building among participants is worthy of our collective reflection. This is of particular importance given how contentious the issue of encampment response has become in our community, and we are hopeful this will be further integrated into the ongoing conversations related to encampments and housing in our community.


The solution to homelessness is housing. There is need for significant investment in a continuum of housing options, including deeply affordable and supportive housing, to support a diversity of housing needs in our community. However, until there are sufficient, appropriate, safe, and adequate housing options for everyone in Hamilton, sheltering outdoors will continue as a necessity.  SPRC strongly supports a response wherein a range of sheltering options are available and adequately resourced, including sanctioned and non-sanctioned encampments, emergency shelters, and intermediary sheltering options such as being developed by the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS). 

We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this ongoing dialogue, which centres around how we can ensure all members of our community have access to safe housing.


Kim Martin,
Executive Director


Mayor Andrea Horwath
Councillor Maureen Wilson
Councillor Cameron Kroetsch
Councillor Nrinder Nann
Councillor Tammy Hwang
Councillor Matt Francis
Councillor Tom Jackson
Councillor Esther Pauls
Councillor John-Paul Danko
Councillor Brad Clark
Councillor Jeff Beattie
Councillor Mark Tadeson
Councillor Craig Cassar
Councillor Alex Wilson
Councillor Mike Spadafora
Councillor Ted McMeekin

Appendix A – SPRC Submission to the Federal Housing Advocate Encampment Review

PDF version of Open Letter to the City of Hamilton on the Proposed Encampment Protocol

[1] Pomeroy, S. (2023, March). Designing for Impact: Options to optimize deployment of Hamilton Community Foundation Affordable Housing Impact Fund (AHIF). Available at

[2] City of Hamilton. Housing and Homelessness Dashboard. Accessed on May 19, 2023. Available at Housing and Homelessness Dashboard (

[3] City of Hamilton (2023, March 23). Information Report – Ending Chronic Homelessness (HSC23021). Available at

[4] homeless hub (2021). Hidden Homelessness. Available at

[5] van Wagner, E. (2022). Case Study: Hamilton—A human rights analysis of encampments in Canada. The Office of the Federal Housing Advocate. Available at

[6] The Regional Municipality of Waterloo v. Persons Unknown and to be Ascertained, 2023 ONSC 670 (CanLII),

[7] City of Toronto (2023, March 17). Toronto Public Health releases 2022 data for deaths of people experiencing homelessness. Available at,years%20of%20age%20for%20females.

[8] The Regional Municipality of Waterloo v. Persons Unknown and to be Ascertained, 2023 ONSC 670