Police, protesters and homeless eviction issues

A group of people, already homeless and living in a tent camp, lose what little they have in an explosive rubbish fire.

They are met shortly after by around two dozen affordable housing advocates eager to find shelter, clothing and food for the displaced.

It was meant to be history.

Instead, the events at JC Beemer Park on Wednesday started as a community coming together to help vulnerable people and ended with a violent clash between protesters and police. The consequences continued, with six arrests at the end of the week.

Amid these two opposing sides – and the impetus for Wednesday’s protest – was the city’s decision to issue eviction notices to people in the encampment under its controversial park regulations.

Some residents have accepted the city’s offer for alternative accommodation in shelters and hotels.

But how long before they’re back on the streets?

The answer

Just before 6 a.m. on Wednesday, emergency crews responded to JC Beemer on Victoria Avenue North to report a fire.

It was a rubbish fire that quickly turned explosive after spreading to propane tanks, electric generators and other incendiary debris.

The burnt ground in the foreground comes from a fire that destroyed tents in the camp on Wednesday.

The flames reached a height of 20 feet. No one at the camp was injured, but two tents caught fire and the overhead power lines were severely damaged. Firefighters said in a statement Thursday that they were not investigating the cause.

About half a dozen police officers also responded to the call, cordoning off a large area surrounding the encampment with yellow police tape. The reason was twofold, said Insp. Frank Miscione in an interview with The Spectator on Thursday.

On the one hand, the Social Navigator program – a partnership of specially trained police officers and paramedics who work with vulnerable populations – needed space to help the displaced homeless, he said. For two, the fire scene presented safety concerns for hydropower workers.

A burnt tree in JC Beemer Park following a fire on Wednesday morning destroyed several tents in an encampment.

“Our concern was that there were more incendiary devices there – there were more propane tanks, there were gasoline and generators,” said Miscione, who led the response. police Wednesday. “There’s no way (the hydro) could replace the lines with all the stuff from the camp over there… but more so, it was a public safety issue with the debris left behind and the possibility of other fires occur. “

The latter was the reasoning of the municipal police to issue eviction notices to residents of the camp within two hours of the start of the fire.

The last tent standing at Beasley Park as workers clear the camp.

City spokeswoman Michelle Shantz said on Wednesday that the city streets outreach team had visited homeless people living in JC Beemer at least 48 times – or twice a week – since June.

But the evictions imposed on Wednesday were not planned in advance, Shantz said, noting that water crews had to repair damaged power lines that were above the tents.

The notices came to the dismay of the Hamilton Encampment Support Network, a housing advocacy group that by noon had more than a dozen volunteers on hand to help the homeless and procure supplies.

Their numbers increased as word spread that the town was evicting residents from the encampment.

Shock

In just a few hours, Hamilton’s police presence at JC Beemer grew from half a dozen officers to over 35.

The heightened police response came after a line of protesters – who had been relatively peaceful, chanting pro-encampment and anti-police chants – broke through the police gang.

Hamilton police responded on Wednesday as a protester violated the tape recorded by police at the site of a homeless settlement in Beemer Park.

A skirmish took place, with police pulling a protester, Sahra Soudi, by the arm. A photo taken at the scene shows a policeman with his knee on another protester. Police later said it was a “shoulder pin.”

Police said breaching the demarcated area “compromised” the safety of camp residents, town staff and outreach workers.

But Kojo Damptey of the Hamilton Center for Civic Inclusion believes race played a role. Many of the protesters, including the two who were dragged and pinned, were people of color.

Hamilton police handcuff a protester at the site of a homeless settlement in Beemer Park on Wednesday.

“It seems to me that every time black people and racialized people stand up for social issues… we are treated so violently,” he said.

Two people were arrested at the scene, including a 33-year-old man accused of obstructing the police and a 27-year-old woman accused of assaulting a police officer.

Other arrests were coming.

Network member Sarah Jama and a handful of supporters gathered in Beasley Park on Friday, where residents of the encampment were also evicted. It was there that police arrested her, charging her with assault and obstructing police in connection with Wednesday’s events.

Hamilton police arrested a protester at the site of a homeless settlement in Beemer Park on Wednesday.

The remaining defenders kept their distance as municipal teams stacked what was left of the roughly eight tents set up in a dump truck.

“We don’t know if we can talk to residents for fear of being arrested,” said Soudi, an organizer with the Hamilton Encampment Support Network. “We’re sort of without intervention right now. ”

A few hours later Soudi was also arrested.

Late Friday afternoon, around fifteen protesters – including Soudi and Jama, then released – stood in front of the King William Street central police station, pitching a tent on police property. It was then that the police intervened and arrested three demonstrators, including Soudi. A video shows police attacking them. The response sparked a tense standoff, with more than 30 officers staring at the protesters yelling at them.

The three protesters arrested on Friday were released later in the afternoon or evening.

Soudi and the other two were released on Friday evening. Soudi has been charged with obstructing police, still in connection with Wednesday’s incident. It is not known whether the other two face charges, but police confirmed on Friday that a 20-year-old man had been charged in connection with Wednesday’s events.

The following

Of the dozen people living in the now dissolved JC Beemer settlement, the city has provided six with temporary accommodation in shelters and hotels. The keyword there is temporary, said Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

Cooper called the evictions “a deplorable situation all around.” But at the heart of the problem, it’s not the city that issues park release notices – it’s that people have to go back to living in tents because any alternatives are an afterthought.

Workers clean up the homeless camp at Beasley Park in central Hamilton on Friday.

Cooper compared cleaning up camps to putting a bandage on a gushing wound. Parks can be cleaned up, but the people who live there – even if they are given temporary accommodation – often cannot afford, afford or be able to avoid sleeping on the streets again. He said the onus is on political leaders to recognize the need for affordable indoor living spaces.

“It’s a situation that polarizes the community and it didn’t need to happen,” he said.


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