Homeless men told to vacate their camp
Excavators on the way to clean out debris-strewn city property
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.
The site is clustered with small mountains of junk; shopping carts, bicycle parts, wiring, furniture, clothing, milk crates, syringes.
Michael Fanning doesn’t know where he’ll go once he’s forced to leave the property.