The board and staff at Hamilton Artists Inc. strongly condemn the recent brutal actions of the Hamilton Police Service and the criminalization of young Black leaders who are supporting and advocating for our unhoused neighbours. Hamilton Police’s blatant violence against peaceful protestors is anti-Black and anti-poor. It is indicative of the City’s unwillingness to meaningfully address Hamilton’s deepening housing crisis. We call for all charges to be dropped immediately and for a judicial inquiry into the violent actions of HPS on November 24 and 26, 2021.

Since early November, the City has resumed violently evicting unhoused Hamiltonians from encampments without providing any permanent housing solutions. Shelters are not an adequate response to the housing crisis as they are temporary, often full, and fail to meet the needs of many residents. While no one should have to sleep in a tent, we recognize that encampments reflect residents’ way of keeping themselves and each other safe within a system that has failed to do so. We stand against the harmful “beggars can’t be choosers” mentality and affirm our unhoused neighbours’ lived experiences and right to refuse “options” that they know cause them harm. We call for an end to all encampment teardowns and evictions.

We also recognize that Indigenous people are overrepresented in encampments due to Canada’s ongoing colonial violence, including the legacy of residential schools. Audrey Davis, Executive Director of the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, told CBC that her team was in touch with at least 178 Indigenous people experiencing homelessness in October 2021. Solutions must be trauma-informed and developed with community consultation and through frameworks of decolonization, decriminalization, and disability justice. It is important to highlight the importance of disability justice given that Hamilton is home to the largest density of people with disabilities per capita in Ontario and its accessible social housing stock is severely limited. Attempts to force encampment residents out of sight will not solve the housing crisis Hamilton is facing, but only place people at greater risk.

In 45 years of operating in the downtown core, we have witnessed and at times benefitted from the City’s changing policies around development. These policies include “beautification” strategies: displacing and disappearing “undesirable” populations such as poor, disabled, and unhoused people while using the arts as a marketing ploy to attract corporate developers and mega-landlords. Instead of leveraging development to fund affordable housing and community benefits, the City’s prioritization of profit over people’s lives has led to exorbitant rents, vacant units, and a major housing crisis. We are seeing our poor, disabled, and racialized neighbours be violently evicted and priced out of communities they’ve built over decades. 

We are saddened that many of the processes we highlighted in our community-generated Gentrification Glossary in 2019 are still continuing to unfold today. Another gentrification-related phenomenon is the increased role of police, who are called upon to intimidate, criminalize, displace, and further marginalize poor, disabled, and racialized community members from their neighbourhoods to make room for wealthier residents. This is unacceptable.

As an artist-run centre committed to making the arts accessible for all of our communities, we cannot remain silent as our neighbours are violently evicted and Black housing advocates are brutalized for speaking out. We will be following this issue closely. We call on the artistic community to support encampment residents, the demands of Black community leaders, and the crucial work of front-line organizations such as the Hamilton Encampment Support Network, Disability Justice Network of Ontario, Keeping Six, SACHA, and the AIDS Network by donating, volunteering, and showing up to events and actions.