Hamilton shelter system overwhelmed with demand

The City of Hamilton’s shelter system is feeling the pressure of an increase in demand for services on this first day of winter. Right now there aren’t enough beds and supports to help everyone in need.

Chief operating officer Katherine Kalinowski says they’ve been at, or over-occupancy for some time, but they do what they can, “we’re particularly concerned with the cold weather coming in, and our ability to support people.”

“We give them a chair or a couch and make sure they have something to eat and at least they are out of the elements,” Kalinowski said.

Kalinowski says staffing levels and resources aren’t enough. Amid the pandemic, the economic downturn, the rise in inflation, and the affordable housing crisis, she says demand for shelter space and support services has risen.

“We are really in a perfect storm right now… anyone living on a fixed income can not afford to find housing necessarily that’s safe and appropriate for them in this community,” She said.

The lack of space isn’t unique to the Good Shepherd, it’s happening across the city. The latest numbers from the City of Hamilton’s online homelessness dashboard show that the shelter occupancy rate for men and for families is above 100 per cent. For women, it’s near 100 per cent and for youth, it’s above 80 per cent.

“The demand within the system right now, we’re seeing pressures, particularly with the family system and for youth that we’ve not experienced before, in the family system unfortunately there are families that are being turned away from shelters,” Director of housing services Michelle Baird said.

Baird says overall funding for the shelter system is decreasing because extra money provided by different levels of government to deal with pandemic pressures is coming to an end.

“That’s why you’re seeing some of these ramped down, and some of the pressures in the system, its really as we go back to pre-pandemic funding levels,” Baird said.

Council has approved additional funding to keep a temporary women’s shelter at the former Cathedral Boys School and additional drop-in centres open until March 31st.

Both Baird and Kalinowski say the solutions are complex, but more money means more vulnerable people can be helped.

It’s not just money, a lack of staff and systemic problems need to be addressed too.

Kalinowski says people need to have adequate income, and the right supports to handle mental health issues, substance use problems, other health problems, and family issues.