HAMILTON — Temperatures have dipped below -15 C on several occasions in the first month of 2022, leaving the city’s homeless vulnerable to extreme weather conditions.
“During these cold-weather alerts there are many temporary spaces for people to go, but they have to jump from space-to-space just to keep warm,” said Kerry Beal, with the Shelter Health Network.
Beal said the warming centres were not open during the intense snowstorm that shut down most major highways in the GTA on Jan. 17, which is cause for concern with another major storm expected to hit the city later this week.
“The warming centres were not open during the storm, and people were dealing with their tents blowing down due to high winds,” she said.
Organizations such as the Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN) are calling for more permanent supports and solutions to be implemented by the city for those experiencing homelessness.
“Shelters and shelter hotels are not substitutes for safe, accessible, and dignified housing. The city should be working to expand housing,” HESN said in a statement on Twitter. The organization highlighted the need for safe, permanent living spaces that are not currently an option for Hamilton’s homeless population.
Bennetto Recreation Centre located at 450 Hughson St. N. is available as a warming centre overnight from 5 p.m. to noon during cold alerts, and The Hub at 78 Vine St. is available under emergency operating hours from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
However, both shelters are located just blocks away from each other in the city’s north end, making it difficult for many to access these services.
Most individuals living in encampments will only access emergency warming centres for a hot meal or for an hour to get out of the cold, as long-term solutions are few and far between for people looking to find a way off the street or out of their current encampment.
“Resources must be invested in housing and support with a spectrum of options that respond to the needs of our houseless community members, our city can and must do better,” said Jeanette Eby with the Beasley Neighbourhood Association.
Other emergency warming centres such as Westmount Recreation Centre and Huntington Park Recreation Centre are only open from noon to 7 p.m. during cold alerts. Many of these warming stations are open regularly, not just during cold alerts, however they are daily centres only and do not provide long-term solutions.