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A $25,000 barrier to keep homeless people away from air vents blowing hot air at Hamilton City Hall in the winter has been erected without the required building permit.

“It’s unfortunate and embarrassing for the city,” building official Ed VanderWindt said Friday.

The palisade installed last week at the back entrance of City Hall, where people hunkered down to try to stay warm in freezing weather, is now going through the permitting process.

With too many people gathered around the back doors, which serve as an emergency exit, it’s become a fire code issue, facilities manager Rom D’Angelo said.

The city was also concerned about drug use and violence, as seen in security camera footage, D’Angelo said.

“There was just a lot of chaos there which created an obstruction at the gate.”

He said staff plan to hire an engineering firm to explore an alternative to vents that could direct HVAC system exhaust elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the barrier has sparked outrage, especially among those providing services to homeless people.

“The decision to cover a hot vent that provided some comfort to people who slept outside in sub-zero temperatures is a shocking example of the dehumanization faced by those affected by homelessness,” said Dr Tim O ‘Shea from the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team.

Indwell, a nonprofit that builds affordable housing, was also furious to learn of efforts to keep people out of hot air during a homelessness crisis.

The barrier was erected without planning permission at the same time that Indwell grew frustrated with waiting for town hall approvals, said Graham Cubitt, director of projects and development.

“Everyone knows permanent supportive housing is the solution,” Cubitt said.

Earlier this week, calling the hoarding “despicable”, an anarchist group removed part of the structure, which the city quickly replaced.

A spokesperson said Mayor Fred Eisenberger was unavailable to comment on the barrier and building permit issue Friday afternoon.

The controversy comes during the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring housing costs, which have overlapped with an increase in encampments taking root in city parks.

Throughout the year, the number of people living outdoors has fluctuated between 80 and 140, but more recently outreach staff are experiencing 30 to 35 outdoors, depending on the city.

The shelter system is struggling with outbreaks and staff shortages with buildings at or near capacity, including the women’s sector, which has been short of beds for years.

At the start of January, the number of places in Hamilton’s emergency accommodation system was 548, down from 341 before the pandemic hit.

“On an ongoing basis,” housing outreach staff informed those gathered behind City Hall of “alternative options available,” including shelter spaces and warming centers, a spokesperson said. this week.

The city is opening warming centers at its recreation centers and in partnership with agencies during cold alerts, which are triggered when the temperature hits -15 C or feels like -20 with wind chill. Some operate in the evening and at night.

The enforcement of a bylaw prohibiting people from setting up tents in city parks – amid outreach efforts by the city and agencies to get people inside – has also been a source of debate. public, as well as clashes between police and housing advocates.

Earlier this month, behind City Hall, 30-year-old Gregory Jacob Knox told The Spectator he tried to enter two shelters but couldn’t due to safety restrictions. ‘epidemic. “It’s like we have nowhere to go.”

Space and disease outbreaks have been factors, but some are left out due to service restrictions that prevent them from accessing shelters for behaviors that may be related to mental illness or addiction.

Initially the city said the design of the ventilation enclosure had been ‘verified’ by the building division and did not need planning permission as it was a ‘barrier’ and not connected to the ‘building.

However, upon review, “although the hoarding structure was secure, it was discovered that there was poor communication between departments,” VanderWindt said by email on Friday.

There was “swift action in the interest of the health and safety” of staff and people entering City Hall, but “the process missed the building permit requirement”, a- he writes.

In addition, the original plywood was replaced by the “appropriate material having the required degree of fire resistance”.

The city also hired an engineer to examine the barrier to confirm it allowed safe airflow, VanderWindt noted.

The city estimated the cost to build the palisade at about $20,000: $15,325.14 for fire-rated plywood and $4,516.45 for the switch to concrete panels.

Additional figures include $3,000 for airflow review; $697 to repair structural damage; $1,500 for endowment. The building permit is $265. The cost of the ongoing study on the HVAC system is not yet known.

For Indwell, the city’s barrier project is a scathing reminder of the permit it still hasn’t secured for more work on a 12-unit affordable housing project at 180 Ottawa Street N.

“We have 150 units ready to be built in 2022 that we would also like to add to the mix so we don’t have people sleeping outside,” Cubitt added.

VanderWindt said Indwell’s application involved “several review letters”, with the architect providing the latest new submission for review on January 18. This should be done on February 1.

But Cubitt argued that “the reviewer could have taken five minutes to respond to the clarifications he got in an hour, but instead gave the response ‘I’ll get to that in 10 days’.”

VanderWindt suggested the timing was reasonable during a busy time.

Average staff response time is 19 days in Hamilton’s record $2 billion license year, while provincial legislation mandates a 20-day turnaround.