Hamilton council priorities for the new year must include housing.

Hamilton Spectator Article by Margaret Shkimba

New year. New council. New beginnings.

Now that all the new councillors know where the restrooms are and onboarding is complete, it’s time to get to work on the issues that are before us and see what kind of progress can be made in improving the lives of all people who live in Hamilton.

Most immediate in the winter weather is the issue of shelter and respite from the cold. Over the holidays, the community was alerted to a gap in services; The Hub in the downtown core was operating the only overnight warming station for the city while a severe winter storm pummelled the area. And it was about to close when the city cancelled the cold weather alert.

Thanks to the generosity of the community that came forward with donations, it had the funding to stay open on Christmas Eve, as well as Christmas and Boxing Day. The City has since stepped in to guarantee funding through to March 31 and Mayor Andrea Horwath has promised a review of the City’s cold weather alert policies. The responsiveness of the city to the community outrage was prompt. However, it’s not as though there wasn’t any warning or the storm was a surprise.

Here we are, still it would seem, managing the city by the seat of our pants, responding to crises on Twitter with fundraising campaigns and demanding our politicians do something. It gets cold every winter. Can’t we figure something out?

Continuing on with the theme of housing, which everyone would agree is the most important issue facing the city, the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters was dealt a disappointing blow by council in deferring their decision on the new proposed site, in large part due to community pushback. I dare say no community wants this project in their neighbourhood, the NIMBYism factor is off the charts.

It’s not a permanent solution, but people fear that’s what will happen. And not without reason. Food banks were supposed to be a temporary solution. Now we have politicians using them as perennial photo-ops. If we want to attack the problem of housing at all levels, using all of the tools at our disposal, then at some point a decision on the HATS project has to be made and a chance must be taken, by our communities and the city.

I’d like to think the decision to defer is a function of the new council recalibrating their support for a project which many had included in their campaign promises; and rethinking past council decisions on siting the tiny house village. The current proposal is time-limited, perfect for a pilot project to prove the concept and the practicability of the solution. The HATS group has organized in good faith, has answered every question and jumped through every hoop. It’s true that saturation of social services in some communities creates real challenges for those communities. I know this through experience.

But we have to extend our trust to those who are working so very hard to make this project happen; trust that they know what they’re doing, that there are models to inspire and others communities with which to share and innovate. We are not inventing a new thing here, but perhaps there are chances to improve on old ways of thinking and living. We can do better with better tools and co-ordinated activities. The HATS program is part of those better tools.

And we have to extend our love to our fellow humans and see that we are all of the same fabric, a beautiful tapestry of colour, telling countless stories of passion and survival long through the ages. All of us, not just those with good jobs and lots of money. How we are threaded with each other is the strength of who we are. And we are threaded with love.

Happy New Year.

Margaret Shkimba is a Hamilton writer. For more visit margaretshkimba.wordpress.com.