Between October and December, the bed capacity in homeless shelters across Hamilton dropped from 555 to 515, with over 1,500 people in the city still actively homeless.
The number of homeless people also dropped from 1,573 in October to 1,509 in December, meaning 64 fewer people were recorded as homeless.
Grace Baldwin, director of the Good Shepherd Family Centre, a homeless shelter in Hamilton dedicated to housing families, said despite the reduced bed capacity, demand for beds has continued to increase. Baldwin says the decrease in available beds is due to withdrawal of pandemic funding.
“I think that might have been related to the closure of some pandemic overflow programs that had been initiated by the city, and so funding has ceased for some of those … that has been a concern across the community from shelter providers and shelter users,” Baldwin said.
“We don’t have enough beds, and decreasing beds at this time, especially going into the cold weather is definitely not an ideal circumstance,” she added. “I think it’s definitely put some additional pressure on an already strained system.”
The Ontario Alliance to End Homelessness (OAEH) works toward ending homelessness in Ontario. According to co-chair Jennifer van Gennip, other cities across the province are facing the same issue of reduced bed capacity for the homeless.
“This is something we have seen in other municipalities,” Gennip explained “Many municipalities augmented their shelter services during the pandemic, including moving some shelters into hotels and motels. In many cases, this allowed them to add more beds. Both provincial and federal governments provided additional funds for this. Once those funds ended late last year, many shelters had to return to their home locations and back to reduced capacity. We saw hotel closures in Toronto and Barrie, for example.”
“Housing is a human right, and everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home,” Gennip added. “While we work toward that goal, governments also have an obligation to provide adequate and accessible spaces for people to stay. Increasing shelter spaces will not end homelessness, and shelter beds are not housing. We need investments in deeply affordable housing now, and adequately funded shelters until that housing need is met.”
The city of Hamilton did not respond to requests for comment regarding the reason for the decreased shelter bed capacity.