Activists gather to demand defunding of police services and investments in free housing

On Nov. 23 following National Housing Day, a group of activists known as Defund HPS gathered outside of Hamilton City Hall to demand the defunding of police services across all levels of government and greater investment into free permanent housing.

The group is asking for an immediate 50 per cent reduction of the Hamilton Police Services budget.

Other demands from the group include rejection of the $4 million budget increase that was requested by the HPS and that the HPS budget surplus of $567,875 is reallocated toward free permanent housing.

“Despite years of promises [regarding] housing, houseless people across the country are being brutalized by municipalities and police. Right now, there are [more than] 20 encampments in #HamOnt,” the group wrote on Twitter.

“Despite years of promises [regarding] housing, houseless people across the country are being brutalized by municipalities and police. Right now, there are [more than] 20 encampments in #HamOnt,” the group wrote on Twitter.

The group added that tents are being destroyed and mass park evictions are occurring while women’s shelters reach maximum capacity and men’s shelters provide unlivable or undignified conditions.

“People will die in the cold because our economy is prioritized over human life . . . Housing is a human right and must be free,” the group tweeted.

“People will die in the cold because our economy is prioritized over human life . . . Housing is a human right and must be free,” the group tweeted.

The group has now set up tents outside of Hamilton City Hall and state that they won’t be leaving until their demands are met. They are also asking to meet with Hamilton’s Mayor, Fred Eisenberger.

Sarah Jama, the organizer of the protest, has been charged by Hamilton police due to the number of people at the protest allegedly exceeding what is permitted for an outdoor gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jama will appear in court on Feb. 22, 2021 and is liable to pay a minimum fine of $10,000 if convicted.

On Nov. 26, after days of remaining outside of City Hall, Defund HPS organized a dance party to gather more attention and continue calling upon the mayor for action.

Also on Nov. 26, a news release from the city stated that bylaw officers will start issuing removal notices for the tents that are set up in front of City Hall. The release said that the notices do not impact people’s rights to gather in front of City Hall, but will indicate that tents and other structures need to be removed immediately.

“[T]he City will work with demonstrators to have them removed by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday night to allow reasonable time for dismantling and removal. It is only the tents and structures that are being ordered for removal, individuals are permitted to remain on site, provided they do not exceed the 25-person outdoor gathering limit,” the city wrote.

On Nov. 27, the fifth day of the demonstration, a statement from Defund HPS was released. The statement shared that Eisenberger had finally spoken out about the demonstration and that he had called the group’s demands to defund the police irrational. Eisenberger said that the city had already made investments into housing.

However, the group stated that they believe the $50 million invested over a 10 year period into housing is insignificant in comparison to the $171 million budget allocated to the Hamilton Police Service in this year alone.


The next day, on Nov. 28, Eisenberger refused to meet with Defund HPS publicly but instead said that he would be willing to meet the group privately within closed quarters with no technology present.

In response, the group rejected meeting privately as they believe it is not safe and would like to meet in a way that provides transparency to all the activists that have gathered for the demonstration.

Others have criticized the mayor’s request to meet privately, noting that the housing crisis in Hamilton is a public issue and deserves input from the public.

“Our mayor always wants to meet privately. Why? Residents of Hamilton expect their elected officials to engage with everybody in the city. Private meetings do not help with the situation. More often than not, in these private meetings no work is done,” said musician and Executive Director of the Hamilton Center for Civic Inclusion, Kojo Damptey, in a video he shared in support of the protest.

On Nov. 29, a vigil was hosted to commemorate the lives lost of unhoused people. Following seven days of the ongoing demonstration, the activists continue to stand by their demands and run interactive programs for all those joining them in front of City Hall, including mural painting as well as tote bag and t-shirt making.

On Nov. 30, bylaw officers and police began forcibly removing tents. Videos show that tents and other belongings are being thrown in the garbage.

On Nov. 30, bylaw officers and police began forcibly removing tents. Videos show that tents and other belongings are being thrown in the garbage.

A statement has since been made by Defund HPS in regards to the tent removals. The group noted that the organizers were not communicated with by police prior to their sudden arrival. The officers were not socially distanced and were handing out trespassing tickets to people for random actions such as holding flowers.

“What we witnessed today was a complete failure on the city’s part to keep people safe. It was a violent attack on people’s livelihood and right to existing in a public space . . . These structures at the camp were critical to keeping people alive, keeping each other fed, keeping each other clothed, keeping each other healthy. We enforced social distancing measures and COVID-safety measures the entire week. We were simply exercising our right to protest,” the group wrote in their statement.

“What we witnessed today was a complete failure on the city’s part to keep people safe. It was a violent attack on people’s livelihood and right to existing in a public space.”

Defund HPS is now asking people to “wake up the mayor”, getting his attention by calling his number, posting on his Twitter or sending him an email.

As the demonstration continues, the group is asking for donations from the community for items such as tents, sleeping bags, blankets, umbrellas and more. Items can be brought to New Vision United Church, which is across the street from City Hall, for volunteers to receive and sanitize.

When the Silhouette reached out to Defund HPS, they were unavailable for an interview.

Image courtesy of C/O Taymaz Valley

Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.