Home­less men told to va­cate their camp

Ex­ca­va­tors on the way to clean out de­bris-strewn city prop­erty

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - TEVIAH MORO

HOME­LESS MEN LIV­ING on a city-owned brown­field slated for de­vel­op­ment have been told to pack up their be­long­ings and leave the prop­erty.

Coun. Ja­son Farr said the men would be told to leave Wed­nes­day be­fore the city uses an ex­ca­va­tor to clear out the de­bris-strewn camp in the Barton-Tif­fany cor­ri­dor. That’s sooner than Michael Fan­ning thought. “We have to be out by the week­end,” he told The Spec­ta­tor dur­ing a visit to the site.

Fan­ning, 54, says po­lice of­fi­cers have tick­eted him “hun­dreds” of times for tres­pass­ing, and re­peat­edly told his group to clear out.

A Hamilton po­lice spokesper­son said com­mand­ing of­fi­cers weren’t avail­able for com­ment Tues­day.

Fan­ning has packed up his few be­long­ings in a large re­cy­cling bin in an­tic­i­pa­tion of his im­mi­nent de­par­ture.

“I know they’re com­ing in heavy.” Af­ter that, he’s not sure where he’ll end up. “I mean you tell me, where am I to go?” Farr ex­pects the men will re­ceive some guid­ance af­ter leav­ing the prop­erty bounded by Caroline, Hess, Barton and Stu­art streets.

“Ul­ti­mately, you can’t ‘squat’ on city-owned prop­erty, par­tic­u­larly on a not-yet-fully re­me­di­ated in­dus­trial site.”

The par­cel is mostly fenced off, but a gap in the bar­rier al­lows ac­cess to a dirt path that snakes through the bush to where a few men have set up makeshift shel­ters with tents and tarps.

It’s clus­tered with small moun­tains of junk; shop­ping carts, bi­cy­cle parts, wiring, fur­ni­ture, cloth­ing, milk crates, sy­ringes.

Farr says he learned about the camp a few months ago af­ter field­ing a com­plaint from an area res­i­dent.

The Ward 2 coun­cil­lor said staff will use a small ex­ca­va­tor to clear out the de­bris and scrape dis­carded nee­dles off the ground.

The gaps in fenc­ing will be closed off and the site will be mon­i­tored, he said.

Fan­ning said he’s lived on the prop­erty on and off for four years.

Farr ques­tioned that du­ra­tion, say­ing he saw no ev­i­dence of campers there in the spring.

Fan­ning says at most, seven peo­ple have lived there. A core of three men has tried to keep liv­ing spa­ces neat, but oth­ers wan­der into the camp and rum­mage through the junk, search­ing for items to sell, he says.

Home­less peo­ple who seek shel­ter out­doors dur­ing warmer months choose out-ofthe-way cor­ners of the city to avoid trou­ble, said Alan Whit­tle, di­rec­tor of plan­ning and com­mu­nity re­la­tions at Good Shep­herd.

“Ob­vi­ously, you get has­sled if you’re some­where vis­i­ble.”

But these hide­aways still have to be con­ve­niently lo­cated to al­low for ac­cess to food and wash­rooms, Whit­tle noted.

Fan­ning — a soft-spo­ken man with long, curly, black hair and a stooped neck that he broke in his youth — says he doesn’t want to live on the mucky brown­field. “I mean, I don’t like liv­ing out here.” But Fan­ning says stay­ing at a shel­ter in­def­i­nitely isn’t an op­tion and apart­ments he’s had were in­fested with ver­min. “Do you want to live with cock­roaches?” He speaks of a cou­ple who took up res­i­dence at the camp be­cause they didn’t want to be apart from each other.

“He couldn’t get into the shel­ter. She could. They couldn’t do it to­gether. She didn’t want to be with­out him.”

But it takes hard work to live there, Fan­ning says: Sim­ple tasks like get­ting water, eat­ing and bathing present daily chal­lenges.

When it’s cold, he avoids freez­ing by lay­er­ing tarps over his tent, which is heated by por­ta­ble buf­fet warm­ers and can­dles.

“I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it beats go­ing to a shel­ter and hav­ing ev­ery­thing stolen from you.”

The bar­ren prop­erty where he and oth­ers have set up camp forms part of the Barton Tif­fany cor­ri­dor.

The parcels are eyed for the pri­vate-sec­tor de­vel­op­ment of thou­sands of res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial units.

City staff is ex­pected to re­port to coun­cil in the fall with op­tions for a “dis­po­si­tion strat­egy” of the prop­er­ties, spokesper­son Ann La­manes said.

Ini­tially, the city bought or ex­pro­pri­ated res­i­den­tial and in­dus­trial prop­erty there to con­struct a west har­bour sta­dium, but opted for the for­mer Ivor Wynne Sta­dium site in the cen­tral east end.

Farr said he ex­pects city staff will han­dle the home­less campers with “sen­si­tiv­ity.”

He’s seen such “lit­tle tent en­claves” be­fore in Hamilton. They’re a “symp­tom of some­thing greater,” he said, re­fer­ring to a na­tion­wide strug­gle with home­less­ness.

Whit­tle sug­gested the sce­nario re­flects “the in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult sup­ply sys­tem we have in our com­mu­nity for af­ford­able hous­ing.”

Roughly 6,000 fam­i­lies or res­i­dents are on the city’s wait­ing list for so­cial hous­ing. In April, coun­cil com­mit­ted to in­vest­ing $50 mil­lion in af­ford­able hous­ing over 10 years.

Fan­ning, who’s from Nova Sco­tia, bris­tles at how some look down at him.

“Just be­cause I’m out­side, doesn’t mean I’m no­body. Dirty old Mike, that’s all they see.”

Fan­ning says he stud­ied two years of univer­sity, worked for a liv­ing and had a fam­ily.

But life as he knew it changed dras­ti­cally some years ago af­ter he lost his wife and adult daugh­ter to ill­ness in Mon­treal, he says. That sent him on a down­ward spi­ral.

“I re­ally went through hell,” he says through tears.

He strug­gled with drugs but has been clean for sev­eral years, says Fan­ning, who hob­bles across the un­even, over­grown, muddy ter­rain on bad knees.

If not phys­i­cal com­fort, he has found ca­ma­raderie at the camp. “They’re all half-de­cent guys.” A man there who talks to him­self at times asked to join the group one day, Fan­ning re­calls, ges­tur­ing to a tall, lanky man hold­ing a bi­cy­cle wheel.

He ques­tions whether he’d be as wel­come else­where.

“He’s a good man … I don’t care who he’s talk­ing to … he’s not hurt­ing any­body.”

Michael Fan­ning moves among the dis­carded ma­te­rial in a lot at the cor­ner of Stu­art and Caroline streets. A clutch of home­less men has been liv­ing there un­der tarps.

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMILTON SPEC­TA­TOR

The site is clus­tered with small moun­tains of junk; shop­ping carts, bi­cy­cle parts, wiring, fur­ni­ture, cloth­ing, milk crates, sy­ringes.

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMILTON SPEC­TA­TOR

Michael Fan­ning doesn’t know where he’ll go once he’s forced to leave the prop­erty.

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