Hamilton councillors reject immediate implementation of Encampment Protocol

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Councillors on both sides of the issue expressed concerns with the draft protocol, with some saying there were too many rules and others saying that the restrictions were too lenient. Council will revisit protocol and sanctioned encampments in August. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck


Hamilton city councillors recently rejected a proposal from city staff to immediately implement a city-wide Encampment Protocol, instead opting for public consultation and another report from staff.

The city appeared to indicate it has little legal cover to remove homeless encampments from parks or other areas of the city.

The city says that “in 2019, the federal government enshrined housing as a human right under the National Housing Strategy Act and in 2023, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that municipalities need to have places for people experiencing homelessness to go – such as shelters or other housing solutions – before asking individuals to leave encampments.”

Since Hamilton shelters are over capacity, city staff appear to indicate that the city must allow encampments and it’s just a matter of laying out what rules people must follow.

As such, staff put forward a set of rules, officially called an Encampment Protocol, and suggested immediate implementation.

Under the Encampment Protocol the city would permit encampments in clusters of no more than five tents in certain locations subject to specific conditions.

Staff also suggested creating sanctioned encampment sites which would involve the city setting up three to five locations across the city that would house 20-50 tents each and include proper sanitation and services.

As for the sanctioned encampment debate, it is possible that the city may reject that idea altogether and simply let the Encampment Protocol rules govern all encampments.

Encampment Protocol (Maximum Five Tent Clusters Anywhere Conditions Allow)

City staff came up with a draft Encampment Protocol based on consultation with various stakeholders and brought it in front of Council on May 17.

Staff recommended the immediate implementation of the draft protocol while the city decides on whether or not to make any changes and whether or not to proceed with sanctioned encampment sites.

The draft proposed allowing encampments with a maximum of five tents with certain restrictions.

Restrictions in the draft plan include a 50-metre distance between tent clusters, a rule that all clusters must not exceed 45 square metres and each individual tent not exceed nine square metres. 

The Encampment Protocol as drafted appears to allow encampments in parks, however, sites must be 50 metres from schools, playgrounds, spray pads, and childcare centres.

Encampments would also not be allowed on or up against sports fields, skateboard parks, baseball diamonds or any other sports amenities. They would also not be allowed in cemeteries and would have to be set back at least five metres from any private property line.

Staff recommended immediate implementation of these rules and the protocol, which would treat encampments with a “housing first” approach less focussed on enforcement.

However, councillors on both sides of the issue expressed concerns with the draft protocol, with some saying there were too many rules and others saying that the restrictions were too lenient.

Particularly, some councillors objected to the fact that the draft protocol would allow encampments in parks. There are also concerns that the protocol is more lenient than other jurisdictions which could result in an influx of homeless individuals to Hamilton from other municipalities.

Thus, a vote on immediate implementation of the protocol failed and councillors voted to have staff consult the public and provide further research on how protocols in other cities work.

As such, councillors voted to stick to the status quo where encampments are technically not allowed in parks or other public spaces (although by-law enforcement is limited due to the previously described legalities).

Sanctioned Encampments (Three to Five City-Approved Sites of 20-50 Tents)

At the same time, city staff are preparing a report on how to best implement sanctioned encampments in the city. Creating sanctioned encampment sites will be debated by Council in August.

Sanctioned encampment sites would consist of three to five city-approved locations across the city where 20-50 tents could be set up. The sites would include services and support including proper sanitation and water.

The city says that such a setup would be similar to Waterloo Region, Halifax, Vancouver, and Toronto’s pilot program.

Sanctioned encampment sites are reportedly “supported by city staff and Hamilton Police Services.”

The Encampment Protocol allowing five tent clusters would continue to apply to those who do not wish to live in sanctioned encampments or if there is not enough room at the approved sites.


Ultimately, the city says that “encampments are likely to exist for the foreseeable future” and essentially indicates that their hands are tied.

Staff write that the long-term solution is “safe and supportive housing,” and the City “cannot respond quickly enough to the growing, immediate needs of the unhoused in our community.”

They say that homelessness in Hamilton and in other areas of Canada has hit “crisis levels” requiring “immediate action.”

The City of Hamilton declared homelessness as a state of emergency in April 2023. The City of Toronto, Ottawa, and the Niagara region have done the same.

In December 2022, the city estimated that 1,536 individuals were actively homeless in Hamilton. That number is up from 1,024 in early 2020.

The city also estimates that there are approximately 100 encampments of varying sizes in the city.

Public Consultation

City of Hamilton staff are currently collecting community feedback on the Encampment Protocol and sanctioned encampments in the form of a four-question survey.

The survey can be found at www.engage.hamilton.ca/emcampments. Commenting is open until 11:59 PM on Friday, June 30.

After consultation and a scan of other municipalities, city staff will bring forward a revised protocol to Hamilton Council for consideration, and Council will decide on whether or not to move ahead with sanctioned encampments. That is expected to happen this August.

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