Advertisement

Baby born in Hamilton encampment shows extent of 'desperate' housing crisis, councillor says

Ward 5 Coun. Matt Francis says he arrived at an encampment during a police ride along on Nov. 28, 2023, moments after a baby was born. (Bobby Hristova/CBC - image credit)
Ward 5 Coun. Matt Francis says he arrived at an encampment during a police ride along on Nov. 28, 2023, moments after a baby was born. (Bobby Hristova/CBC - image credit)

A Hamilton councillor's recent experience witnessing a baby born in an encampment in the city demonstrates the "unacceptable" housing crisis residents face and "eye opening" situations paramedics and police officers are currently responding to, he says.

Coun. Matt Francis (Ward 5) told CBC Hamilton he was doing a ride along with police on a cold morning in late November when they were called to a medical emergency at an encampment tucked away in an industrial area in the east end.

They arrived at the same time as paramedics and "to our surprise," he said, a woman had given birth in a tent and was holding the infant with the umbilical cord still attached. There was another person in the tent with her.

"I was one of the very first people to see this child born and I was shocked and saddened at the same time," Francis said in an interview Monday.

Paramedics cut the umbilical cord and wrapped the baby in a blanket, while police helped the mother onto a stretcher. She and the baby were taken away in an ambulance, he said.

"My heart goes out to the mother and any other mothers in such a terrible situation," said Francis, a father of two. "My heart goes out and breaks for the children too that are born into the world that way."

Hamilton paramedic Chief David Thompson confirmed paramedics delivered a baby at an encampment on Nov. 28 and both the baby and mother were in stable condition. He said he was at the scene supervising.

"Our paramedic crews did a fantastic job in a challenging situation," he said.

While it was the only birth at an encampment or to someone at "no fixed address" in the last year, paramedics have responded to five other pregnancy-related emergencies at encampments, Thompson said.

Experience shared during budget deliberations

Francis spoke publicly about the experience for the first time at a council meeting on Monday — after the chief of police asked for a $20 million budget increase for 2024.

Councillors are currently deliberating how much to raise taxes for 2024. The city has proposed a 7.9 per cent increase — up from last year's unprecedented 5.8 per cent.

Francis voiced his support for the police budget Monday and said the birth at the encampment exemplifies the difficult situations police officers face on a day-to-day basis.

The same can be said for paramedics and firefighters, too, Francis said in an interview afterwards.

Francis has been a vocal opponent of encampments in public spaces, saying at a council meeting last year they're "beyond inappropriate" and that he supports an "enforcement-first approach."

When speaking to CBC Hamilton, Francis didn't say whether his position on encampments has changed, but acknowledged what he witnessed was "eye opening."

"It definitely showed that we are in a very desperate situation in our province right now," Francis said. "It speaks to the situation and the need for more affordable housing for folks."

He said he waited to share the details of what he witnessed because he had been "still reflecting" on the experience and it felt "most fitting" to bring it up during budget discussions.

An Indigenous man died at an encampment near Bayfront Park on Monday, according to Hamilton Regional Indian Centre's executive director.
An Indigenous man died at an encampment near Bayfront Park on Monday, according to Hamilton Regional Indian Centre's executive director.

Francis has previously voiced his opposition of encampments in public spaces. They are currently allowed in some of Hamilton's outdoor public spaces. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The city is requesting $43 million more in 2024 to fund its overflowing shelter system, affordable housing programs and tenant supports amid a housing affordability crisis.

Staff estimate there are currently over 1,600 people experiencing homelessness and less than 620 shelter beds and say other levels of government are not providing the necessary funding.

"The investments in housing and homelessness are a significant driver of the 2024 budget and we know it's also [among] the key council priorities," Jason Thorne, general manager of planning and economic development, told councillors Tuesday.

While some city residents have told council they hope the budget will be spent on affordable housing and improving tenant protections, Francis said the city "throwing money" at the housing crisis is not the solution and more support must instead come from the provincial government.

Residents in his ward, east of the Redhill, can't afford another major tax increase like last year, he said, adding people are struggling to pay their mortgages amid inflation and high interest rates.

"I would hope that our provincial government is listening and I certainly will do my part making sure that my residents are heard and we find solutions for everybody," Francis said.