Hamilton, Housing, and the HPS: Reframing the Narrative

 Challenging the false dichotomy between the HPS and Affordable Housing

Protests at City Hall, a homelessness crisis, and a movement to defund the Hamilton Police Service; what do all of these have in common? 

They have all been presented as causally related issues by a movement called Defund HPS, which desires to cut Hamilton police funding in half, in order to redirect the funds to affordable housing. These protests come at almost the same time as a federal government grant to Hamilton worth $10.8 million for affordable housing, allowing Hamilton to construct 45 units and house 53 people. This fraction of the federal government’s $1 billion contribution towards housing will not make much progress on the list of 6,321 who are on the waitlist for affordable housing options.  In fact, with estimates saying some cities could see as much as a 15% increase in homelessness in the wake of the pandemic, the current estimates of $100 million to provide adequate affordable housing for Hamilton will likely need to be increased. No matter how you look at it, the situation in Hamilton is bad, and when the people who built tent communities were constantly moved and relocated, they were driven to protest. This protest took on an anti-police tone, when it used the defund the police activist movement that has swept North America as a framework for where they believe there is a misuse of funds and room for improvement. 

Are the police really the problem, like the movement Defund HPS suggests? Let’s examine a case study to find out. In the city of Minneapolis, ground zero for the Defund Police movement, the police had their budget slashed by $8 million. Has this resulted in the promised peace and prosperity, and freedom from alleged police oppression? On the contrary, Minneapolis has seen a 75% increase in murders, more than double the number of gunshot victims, and a 331% increase in carjackings over last year’s numbers. The city of Minneapolis thought that less police and more crisis mental health and violence prevention would solve their problems, but it has been so disastrous that the city has begun backtracking and refunding the police. When the police are not properly equipped, crime thrives; this is both common sense, and supported by the data. 

So what does this have to do with Hamilton? It would be naive to think that Hamilton is any more immune to crime than any other large city, especially when you consider Hamilton’s tendency for protests, and other dangerous events such as the anarchist march a few years ago. To use an analogy that relates to my on campus job, the police are like the AV Team; you don’t fully appreciate them until they aren’t there when you need them. It is also important to note that when crime increases as a result of underfunded and insufficient policing, it is not the people in the comfortable neighborhoods such as Ancaster who feel the affects the most; it is without question the very group that this movement is trying to help, those struggling with low income situations that might not have the means to ensure their own personal security. The police are not the enemy of the homeless or impoverished people of Hamilton, quite the opposite. As a four year Deedz leader I can say with all confidence that the police are often the first on the scene, helping victims of violence or drug use, and using their discretion to put people in touch with services they may need. To defund the HPS, would be to turn our backs on our greatest ally in helping ensure the safety of the poverty stricken in Hamilton. 

So if the police are not the problem, then what is? I would propose that a lack of affordable housing is part of the problem, but it is also not the entire solution. The idea that giving everyone who needs housing a house would solve homelessness, is one that fails to recognize the depth of community development practices that need to be implemented to ameliorate the situation. Take addiction and drug use as a case in point. So far in 2020, the Hamilton Paramedic Service has responded to 517 incidences of opioid overdoses, 296 people have had to be revived with naloxone kits, and Hamilton has an opioid death rate that is 75% higher than the provincial average.Or take the example of mental health, a consistent issue that plagues the homeless community, and prevents them from being able to improve their own quality of life. Issues such as drug abuse, addiction, mental health challenges, inadequate employable skills, and financial illiteracy all contribute to the cycles of poverty and homelessness, and giving people the ability to purchase a house is not the same as giving them the means to support themselves and fully participate in society. It is only in light of this holistic view of community development that we can tackle the root causes of poverty in Canada and in Hamilton. 

While it is clear that simply throwing money at a problem as complex as homelessness will not make it go away (or else it would have been done already), it is true that there is significant funding needed to allow for the proper development of the communities who are most at risk in Hamilton. However, taking this funding from the HPS will only hurt rather than help the most vulnerable in our city. While a municipal budget is inadequate to deal with the kind of support that is needed for true progress (even in the area of housing where the City of Hamilton already allocates $28.3 million), one potential solution is to seek financial assistance from the federal government. The Government of Canada recently announced it would spend $485 million on vaccine distribution abroad, this in addition to $109.5 million already contributed to COVID-19 assistance outside of Canada.  These are noble gestures, but perhaps Canada should be prioritizing or at least better balancing the immediate physical needs of its homeless population of 235,000 people (pre-pandemic), before dishing out hundreds of millions of dollars abroad. 

Hamilton needs to be a united front, in appealing to the larger budgets of the provincial and federal government, as well as supporting the fantastic groundwork of the HPS, the Hamilton Paramedic Service, and countless private organizations such as the Salvation Army. What can Redeemer students do to get involved? Engage with city councilors, MPPs, and MPs, show them that students and voters care about these issues. Letters, emails, phone calls can all go a long way to remind an elected representative of the will of their constituents. Being involved in politics in general, even if that is as simple as being an informed voter, or attending events run by the Conservative Club at Redeemer, are important steps. Volunteering with an organization that works downtown, such as Redeemer’s own Deedz, is another way for students to engage with these issues. Above all, students must support a united vision for Hamilton, where there can be meaningful development where it is needed most, brought about by the cooperation of all parties involved. As a city unified under a common goal, there is no limit to the progress Hamilton can make. 


Calvin Grootenboer