COVID-19: Advocates urge Hamilton police not to fine homeless, call for more hygiene, rest stations

Those who work with Hamilton’s vulnerable residents are urging the city to provide more support for those who are homeless during the coronavirus pandemic — including by not handing out fines to those who gather in public.

Keeping Six and the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team (HAMSMaRT) said they confirmed that at least two people who are homeless in Hamilton were fined $750 under new provincial rules that ban gatherings of more than five people.

“As we await further access to rest and hygiene stations, we implore the city and the province to stop criminalizing people who are homeless and instead do absolutely everything in their power to make it possible for people to participate in physical distancing with dignity,” the organizers wrote in an email update.

Hamilton police Chief Eric Girt said police are trying to ensure compliance and that they’re issuing warnings first, only handing out fines as a last resort.

“People were warned, told about the distancing and the grouping — in fact, as I understand it, some were sharing a bottle between themselves,” Girt said during the city’s briefing on Monday. “We’ve certainly explained it to a number of people. Some people remain oppositional, and then we’re put in a spot where we may have to do enforcement.”

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Claire Bodkin of HAMSMaRT said this is a public health problem, not a policing problem, and it’s important to look at why people aren’t practising physical distancing.

“Most Hamiltonians have heard that there were people ticketed on the golf course for playing golf,” Bodkin told Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show. “That reason why is very, very different than a person who doesn’t have a home and who isn’t able to practise physical distancing because they don’t have any home to be in or anywhere to go.”

The city has installed portable washrooms and sinks at Bay Street and York Boulevard, directly outside of FirstOntario Centre, to give residents in need a place to clean up.

Paul Johnson, the director of Hamilton’s emergency operations centre, said the city is working on announcing more supports for homeless residents, which are expected to be rolled out over the next few days.

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