Residents displaced after fire rips through homeless encampment at Hamilton park

Several Hamilton residents experiencing homelessness have been displaced after a fire tore through an encampment at a downtown Hamilton park.

Hamilton deputy fire chief Dan Milovanovic said they were called to J.C. Beemer Park on Victoria Avenue North shortly before 6 a.m. Wednesday for reports of a rubbish fire.

When they arrived, Milovanovic said they discovered a large area that appeared to be a “makeshift encampment” engulfed in flames.

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After crews knocked down the blaze, the scene was then turned over to Hamilton police, who told Global News that the cause of the fire is not believed to be criminal in nature.

In a release issued on Wednesday, police said there were propane tanks and electrical generators in the encampment that caused several explosions and that the flames were fueled by debris in the area.

While there were no injuries, the blaze destroyed several tents and damaged a hydro line.

“The Hamilton Police Social Navigator Program is working closely with the City of Hamilton Municipal Law Enforcement and community partners to find alternate housing options for those sleeping rough,” wrote police in the release.

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“At this time, the majority of those affected have been relocated and six individuals have been provided with shelter.”

The Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN), a group that advocates on behalf of the city’s homeless residents, rallied at the site on Wednesday afternoon, calling for the city not to remove what remains of the residents’ belongings.

They’re also asking Hamiltonians to donate warm clothes and other essentials to help replace what was lost.

“We are well into the beginning of winter, and many of the residents living in have no safe or accessible shelter or housing options,” the group wrote in an emailed statement.

“A fire is a safety concern for all residents in and around the park – but can only be properly addressed by providing residents with alternatives that are safe, accessible, and permanent.”

Hamilton police said two people were arrested during the Wednesday afternoon rally at J.C. Beemer – a 33-year-old man who is accused of obstructing police and a 27-year-old woman accused of assaulting an officer.

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In a livestream posted on Twitter, a police officer who can be seen dragging one person by the arm is surrounded by other supporters of encampment residents, with other officers getting involved in the clash and pushing people backward.

It’s not clear what happened immediately prior to the beginning of the recording.

Hamilton police say that the situation at J.C. Beemer Park remains unsafe and say they will also be staying on-site until the encampment can be cleared.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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