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Community Summary Report: Hamilton

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Community Partner name: Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton

Conversation date: February 4, 2022 1:00pm-3:00pm EST

1. Introduction

A. Summary

This community conversation revealed that climate change and income insecurity are significantly impacting Hamilton’s neighbourhoods and infrastructure. Recurrent conversations within the breakout groups highlighted how severe weather events and economic inequality are disproportionately harming low-income and impoverished residents. There is consensus that as the cost of housing, food, utilities, and transportation continue to rise in Hamilton, those who cannot afford to meet their needs will be more susceptible to the negative effects of climate change events. Participants agreed that coordinated action is needed across a range of community organisations, service sectors, and governments to sufficiently address contentious issues related to climate change, the affordable housing crisis, food insecurity, and income insecurity. Many were in agreement that should Hamilton stay on its current path, instances of poverty, homelessness, and poor health will continue to rise in the area.

B. About the Green Resilience Project

This community conversation was part of the Green Resilience Project, a Canada-wide series of conversations exploring and documenting the links between community resilience, income security and the shift to a low-carbon economy. Working with a designated partner organization from each community, the Green Resilience Project aims to create spaces in which a wide range of participants can talk through the links between climate change and income security, and identify possible next steps to build or maintain community resilience in the face of these challenges.

This  Community Summary Report  reflects what we heard and learned in our community’s conversation. Each Project partner organization across Canada will be producing a similar report. In March 2022, the Green Resilience Project will produce a final report summarizing findings across conversations, which will be available to the public and shared with Environment and Climate Change Canada. 

Funding for the Green Resilience Project is generously provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Climate Action and Awareness Fund. The Project is is managed and delivered by Energy Mix Productions, Basic Income Canada Network, Coalition Canada Basic Income – Revenu de base, Basic Income Canada Youth Network, national experts and local partners. 

C. About the Community Partner organization

The Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (HRPR) was formed in 2005 to tackle Hamilton’s unacceptable levels of poverty. Roundtable members include leaders in the sectors of business, non-profit, government, education, and faith communities, as well as individuals who personally experience poverty. The HRPR seeks to build community understanding and advocate for poverty reduction to create a healthier, inclusive, and more prosperous Hamilton. The HRPR works locally, provincially, and nationally on policy and systems-level change to achieve long-term solutions to poverty.

The Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton (SPRC) is a non-profit, registered charitable organization first formed in 1966, funded primarily by the United Way. The SPRC’s goal is to improve the quality of life for everyone in Hamilton through research, community development, community engagement, and system and service planning. Poverty reduction and elimination is one of the SPRC’s four key priority areas. They have been a key member in many of Hamilton’s anti-poverty initiatives over the last decade, including their ongoing collaboration with the HRPR. 

The HRPR and SPRC have been active leaders in local community efforts to address the intersections of poverty, income security, and climate justice. Through hosting this community conversation in collaboration with the Green Resilience project, these community partner organizations aim to foster conversation and understanding across a variety of community sectors, including climate and energy, income security, labour, and those who are too often left out of policy discussions and decisions. This discussion serves as a starting point for local advocacy, collaboration, and next steps to address poverty, income security, and the climate crisis. 

D. Why this community was selected to have a conversation

Climate concerns, economic inequality, extreme poverty, and homelessness are key issues affecting the Hamilton community, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost of living in Hamilton is rising at an alarming and unsustainable rate, which is contributing to an increase in homelessness, food insecurity, and poverty. Hamiltonians are experiencing the effects of inflation, stagnant wages, insufficient social assistance rates, income insecurity, and the affordable housing crisis. Emergency shelters are operating at capacity throughout the city, with many experiencing repeated COVID-19 outbreaks. More people have resorted to sheltering on the streets, in tents, or in precarious and unsafe living situations. Locally, climate change is leading to extreme cold winters and hot, humid summers, which place strains on public infrastructure and impacts human health, wildlife, and vegetation. In totality, these factors have a significant effect on mental health, physical health, and the general welfare of the community, leaving many to question what Hamilton’s future will look like. 

There are identifiable strengths and assets within Hamilton that are in support of these issues. Community-based organizations are mobilizing to address climate change and income insecurity. Their efforts are predominantly focused on implementing community programs and advocating for social and economic policy reforms. The SPRC, HRPR, and a number of other stakeholders have stepped up to host community conversations related to climate justice and poverty reduction. Local social service agencies are working to expand affordable housing programs within their funding parameters. Despite these ongoing efforts, more is needed to tackle the intersections of climate change and income security. 

E. About the conversation participants
# of conversation participants: 27 total attendees (3 note takers)

Participants were invited based on Hamilton’s unique role in addressing both climate justice and income security issues.  From 2017-2019, Hamilton was one of three pilot sites for the Ontario Basic Income Pilot project. More than 1,000 local residents participated in the program and gained first-hand knowledge of the benefits of income security through a basic income.  Former participants of the pilot, joined local basic income advocates at the session to share their experiences and knowledge of how income security intersects with climate change. Hamilton also has a strong contingent of climate justice advocacy groups. Environment Hamilton, the Bay Area Climate Change Council and GASP (Grandmothers Advocating for a Safe Planet) are among many groups who were invited and attended to share their experience. In addition, the City of Hamilton has been on the forefront of addressing climate change from a municipal policy perspective and Mohawk College and McMaster University (the latter through the Centre for Climate Change) have been at the forefront of researching local and national impacts of climate change.

In addition, equity-seeking groups, including black, indigenous and queer representatives from advocacy organizations were invited given the profound impact both climate change and income insecurity has on marginalized populations in Hamilton. 

F. The Community Conversation 

This community conversation took place via Zoom. The conversation started with a land acknowledgement and introduction. All participants were provided with the opportunity to introduce themselves and describe their role within this conversation. Janet Patterfung from Green Resilience provided a brief description of the project and purpose of the community conversation. The group then heard from keynote speaker Jamie Cooke, head of Scotland’s Royal Society for Arts, Commerce & Engineering. Jamie discussed the connection between basic income and climate change, as well as his recommendations for a more equal, sustainable future. Next, the group received instructions on the breakout conversations and were divided into three breakout rooms. The remainder of the time was dedicated to answering the breakout group questions provided by the Green Resilience Project. No changes were made to the provided content or questions. In the final five minutes of the event, the group reconvened as a whole for a final summary and conclusion. The total duration of the community conversation was two hours.

From the perspective of the organizers, this community conversation was successful. The event included a number of community leaders across various sectors relevant to this issue, and produced rich discussions on basic income and climate change. No challenges were experienced while organizing this event.  

2. What We Heard

A. How are the changes to our community’s environment and economy discussed in the introduction affecting you, your family or the community as a whole.

In this conversation it was noted that there have been a number of climate change related weather events impacting Hamilton’s community and infrastructure. Some examples that were discussed include extreme heat, short winters with massive snowstorms, local flooding events, severe rainstorms, and an increase in pests like ticks. Simultaneously, Hamiltonians are being impacted by economic changes and strains, such as: precarious and minimum wage employment, the rising cost of living (utilities, food, transportation, renting, etc.), and the affordable housing crisis. Homelessness and poverty are on the rise in Hamilton, especially within the context of COVID-19. 

One participant mentioned that a recently released report announced that Hamilton’s houses are now averaging at a market cost of over $1,000,000. Builders behind new developments appear to be responding to markets and profits, rather than the need for more affordable housing units. This participant stated, “a bigger solution is needed to solve climate change and poverty at the same time. People don’t know if their jobs and homes are safe.” Another participant agreed, noting that people who are poor are not able to be prepared for climate and financial emergencies, and have less access to preparation measures. There is an evident need to protect vulnerable residents and businesses from climate change now and in the future.

One participant disclosed that they work at a community counselling agency, and have noted that “economic changes, like the labour market and income security program deterioration and overall inadequacy, have a big impact on families’ relationships with each other, as well as mental health. Everything is tough when you are struggling with food, housing, and income insecurity. Eco trauma, which is related to sudden or gradual negative changes in peoples’ environments and the world, is certainly on the rise. It leads to despair and hopelessness, and this is something I have been seeing more of.” 

Multiple participants acknowledged that the current neoliberal approach to social and economic policies has led to the growth of class inequality, which has been accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It appears that the rich are becoming wealthier, while people who are low-income are becoming more deprived. It was agreed that there needs to be more attention paid to marginalized and vulnerable people in the local community. Many participants discussed the concept of Just Transition, which is a framework that encompasses the social interventions needed to sustain the livelihood of ordinary class citizens as the economy shifts to combat climate change. New ways of thinking are emerging, which emphasize “the need to include a system of social protection based on human rights and social rights of citizens, deepening democratic participation, and building an economy that is in harmony with nature.” A Just Transition approach would require elaborate coordination between research institutions, government, and industry associations.

B. How are these environmental and economic changes related to each other? 

All breakout groups reflected on several concrete examples of interrelated economic and climate change that are commonly raised when talking to people in the community: extreme heat, food insecurity, and housing affordability. It was noted that by 2080, it is expected that Hamilton will have a minimum of two months of extreme heat per year. One participant stated, “people who can afford air conditioning are able to purchase it, but this is a real barrier for people who cannot afford it. Extreme heat is a killer across the nation in terms of climate change. For food insecurity, Canada imports a lot of food products. We do not experience this climate change but it can affect our supply. People with money can just pay more, people who are food insecure eat less, consume less nutrition, and resort to lower quality foods. There are mental health and physical health impacts associated with an unhealthy diet.” Participants noted that many people in Hamilton are paying far above 30% of their income towards housing. To pay additional to stay healthy and cool in an extreme heat scenario is beyond many people’s ability to reach.

Hamilton has been impacted greatly by rain and flooding, and its effects have been concentrated in low-income areas. Participants noted it is partly because of Hamilton’s development pattern. One participant stated, “I used to do engineering work on Hamilton’s combined sewer system. A study of the lower East end, which is a low-income area, found that the area has not historically been prioritized for infrastructure upgrades. There are mold issues, flooding, and health impacts as a result. Changes in the climate are causing greater numbers of intense precipitation events. People at the lower end of the income hierarchy are impacted the most.”Insurance costs are increasing astronomically because of these climate change events. Simultaneously, there is an influx of large houses on large lots being built further and further from the downtown Hamilton core. There is insufficient action being taken in terms of sustainable housing, and housing availability for people who are low-income has worsened. Participants speculate that development patterns will continue to impact low and middle income households who have been affected by climate change.

One common concern discussed in this question was a lack of affordable housing, and the climate emergency being seen as an economic opportunity. There are ongoing concerns with the prices of housing and rent, with costs continuing to increase due to market speculation. Participants acknowledge that Hamilton is not a wealthy city, therefore more attention must be paid to organizations building affordable housing. As noted by one participant, “there are viable longer term solutions. Hamilton should be proud about the leadership we’ve shown on passive house construction. CityHousing Hamilton has done, I think, the tallest retrofitted tower in North America. Indwell is doing fantastic work in our community. YWCA is bracing these methods. These examples to me are the perfect marrying of acknowledging the climate crisis with technology innovation. There are solutions that are climate resilient that also bring costs down for social housing providers.”

Another important issue raised was the loss of local farmland to new housing developments. Participants expressed that the City of Hamilton seems to be in a “tug of war” between what is good for community members, against what is good for developers and urban sprawl. One participant stated that conservation authorities are not pushing back on development, when what the city needs is more farmland. Several participants agreed that cutting and reducing sprawl is important, and feel that loss of farmland is a key issue. As houses are built up against farmlands, farmers may feel the need to move further away from the area. Given that food instability is on the rise in Ontario, producing local food may be a matter of survival as the community continues to navigate climate change. 

C. What are some possible solutions to the challenges we’ve discussed that will help the community respond to climate change and create income security for all community members? 

Multiple participants noted that preserving Ontario’s Greenbelt, maintaining farmlands, and stopping urban sprawl are important environmental responses to curb climate change and its effects on the local community. One participant stated, “holding the boundary of sprawl will force us to look at the option of gentle density infill in existing neighbourhoods, including higher density downtown, and more intentional public transit design. Not only will it help make urban Hamilton more climate resilient, if done right it could open powerful opportunities, such as a range of affordable housing options.” Related to this, upgrading existing city infrastructure is vital to enhancing infrastructure resilience and reducing the impact of climate change. 

Participants agreed that reframing housing as a human right, improving employment conditions, and enhancing income security are viable solutions to reduce the impact of climate change on Hamiltonians. Participants agreed that this process could be facilitated through a Just Transition framework, transitioning people to green jobs and basic income as an economic floor, regardless of their status in the labour market. As a part of this process, it will be essential to move away from an ethic of consumption toward an ethic of sufficiency; in other words, what is collectively enough for the local community to live together well. As it pertains to employment, one participant noted, “The Chamber of Commerce in Hamilton is doing a project with Mohawk College to empower employers with better retention strategies and human resources considerations that they haven’t really thought about before. We’ve done a lot of focus groups and surveys, and what consistently comes through is those employers who care about their employees. There is an opportunity here, as the pandemic displayed: a combination of universal basic income with employers going above and beyond the bare minimum.” 

D. How do you think these solutions can be achieved to build, maintain or strengthen community resilience? Who is responsible for these changes—individuals, community groups, governments or a mix?

Participants agreed that achieving these solutions will depend on coordinated actions across a range of organizations, sectors, and governments. Social agencies, ecological groups, faith communities and educators all have an important role to play in the conversation of climate justice and basic income. As one participant noted, “one of the advantages Hamilton has in terms of solutions, is there are a lot of things that can be done. We have a strong not-for-profit sector and community foundation who are taking a progressive view of how to support new projects, from community gardening to different types of housing developments. There are solutions out there from all sectors, and Hamilton has a history that it can draw on. We didn’t get anywhere close to the Vision 2020 goal, but we brought involvement in all sectors, from business, to education, to individual citizens.” Participants cautioned that in the absence of coordinated actions, poverty and homelessness will continue to increase in Hamilton.

Most participants contend that an absence of political leadership is a primary contributing factor to the current climate and economic crisis. There were numerous assertions that the neoliberal approach to politics over recent decades has caused Canada’s social safety net to erode. Therefore, an effective approach will require reformed political structure and leadership. All levels of government have a role to play in acknowledging the current emergency, taking responsibility for current conditions, and committing to fundamental social and structural changes.

Furthermore, these solutions can be achieved by engaging ordinary citizens and enhancing their political participation. Basic income has the potential to increase peoples’ capacity to get involved politically with these justice issues. Most participants noted that as a baseline, people need to be able to afford to live. Citizens will be empowered to participate socially, politically, and economically in their communities if they are able to attain affordable housing, stable employment, nutritious food, accessible transportation, affordable child care, and other necessities required to take care of themselves and their families. 

3. What We Learned

Please give a brief analysis of your conversation, drawing on your conversation data as well as the evaluation forms participants filled out at the end of the conversation (which Project staff will send to you). Your response should answer these questions. 

  • To what extent do you think your conversation built wider and deeper understanding of the links and synergies between community resilience, livelihoods, income security and the low-carbon transition? Please explain your response.
    • 1 – Not at all
    • 5 – Very much so

(4) Stronger links were certainly forged between individuals and groups that sometimes work together, but this session led to a   for example, in March, 2022, 

  • To what extent did participants demonstrate increased awareness of climate change and their own capacity for climate action? Please explain your response.
    • 1 – Not at all
    • 5 – Very much so

(2) I believe the invitees were already very educated about the impacts of anthropogenic climate change on human and environment systems. This speaks to the 

  • To what extent were new relationships between community partners and conversation participants created and fostered? Please explain your response.
    • 1 – Not at all
    • 5 – Very much so

(4) I believe potential new partnerships and certainly understanding was forged about the direct linkages between the climate emergency and income security

  • To what extent did your conversation create opportunities to foster ongoing discussion of solutions related to climate change, income insecurity and community resilience? Please explain your response.
    • 1 – Not at all
    • 5 – Very much so

(4) While the Hamilton community is already has strong linkages between environmental / climate change activists and income security advocates (particularly through such coalition building initiatives such as the Just Recovery Initiative or the Hamilton Extreme Heat Response Network) this session helped renew and strengthen the benefits of community dialogues between those working on climate emergency priorities and those working within the income inequality sphere. I suspect conversations will continue, lead to projects and help build community resilience. 

  • In your opinion, what does the community need to do next in order to build or maintain resilience in the face of climate change and rising income insecurity?

Ongoing education and outreach will be the key to 

4. Next steps

Participants acknowledged the need for ongoing advocacy related to the topics covered in this conversation. While a number of local community-based organizations are already advocating for poverty elimination, it is imperative that these conversations continue to address the intersections between poverty and climate change. It must be asserted that climate resilience can be attained by reducing rates of income insecurity and economic inequality. Key advocacy areas for reducing poverty include: affordable housing, food security, social assistance reform, and the introduction of basic income and living wage policies. Simultaneously, climate change issues must be acknowledged, such as: reducing urban sprawl, investing in community infrastructure, and preserving conservation and farm lands. As discussed, tackling these important issues will require participation and collaboration at all levels. 

We look forward to continued engagement with community partners to look at potential areas of collaboration.  This will include expanding public engagement and education on these topics to a larger audience. One potential area of focus will look at the upcoming Ontario provincial election and see if a town hall focusing on climate change, income inequality and affordable housing may be an appropriate next step. Another emerging 

project will survey low-income tenants in a low-income high-rise apartment building to determine how prepared they are for the impacts of climate change (particularly around extreme heat adaptation) and determine what interventions might be appropriate for that vulnerable population.  More ideas and potential projects will no doubt follow in the weeks ahead.