1. Can you tell us about your role as Director, Neighbourhood Development Strategies. What is the purpose and mandate of the role, and how will you know whether you have been successful in it? What outcomes would you look for against what time frame?
The City of Hamilton’s Neighbourhood Development Strategy is focused on helping neighbourhoods to be great places to live, work, play and learn. To do that, the City of Hamilton is working with community partners, neighbourhood groups and residents to develop action plans to build healthier communities.
Externally my work has been focussed on enhancing the level of community development in neighbourhoods
and facilitating resident-led neighbourhood planning. Internally I am working with all City Departments to strengthen the “horizontal integration” of neighbourhood work that will not only ensure effective and efficient delivery of service at a neighbourhood level, but also assist the City in creating a stronger working relationship with residents and key stakeholders in neighbourhoods.
An overview of the work of the Neighbourhood Development Strategy and a list of the neighbourhoods we are working with can be found at www.hamilton.ca/neighbourhoods
Long term success would be proven by a decrease in the level of health, social and economic disparities among neighbourhoods in Hamilton. In the immediate term, that begins with stronger engagement in local planning and an increased ownership of the strengths and challenges in the neighbourhood. In the short to medium term the implementation of these plans will start to address some of the “place based” and “people based” outcomes we want to see improved. That may mean capital projects to make physical improvements to the neighbourhoods. It may mean additional investments in services and amenities that support healthy living and address health, social and economic challenges. It may also mean changes to policies to encourage healthy neighbourhood design.
While the initial neighbourhood planning work can occur quickly the changes in outcomes in neighbourhoods will take time. The City is committed to working with neighbourhoods long-term and will be monitoring change over time. We will be capturing secondary data across a number of indicators that will track changes in neighbourhood indicators such as incomes, educational attainment, calls for by-law enforcement, employment level to name a few.
The City is also working with McMaster University to undertake a longitudinal study of 2,000 individuals across six priority neighbourhoods. These individuals will be asked to share information about their personal situation and their perception of the neighbourhood in which they live. Their responses will provide a good baseline of individual data and changes in their responses will be tracked over the next decade.
2. Street Prostitution is a topic that has been of concern in Hamilton neighbourhoods. In a recent response you made to Gary Santucci with respect to his call for a concerted effort to resolve the issues related to street prostitution, you wrote “To get there we will need a concerted effort by all levels of government, the broader public sector, the private sector and the non-profit sector. It will take time, talent and funding to make progress." While the problem is complicated and big, some may nonetheless say that your reply sounded a little bureaucratic, and did not seem to offer much hope. Whether you agree with that assessment or not, can you convey what immediate, short term, medium term and longer term steps are needed to get there. In other words, is there a plan to get there and if so, what form does it take and who is involved?
Issues related to sex work have a connection to and are impacted by some broad community realities. In terms of street level sex work there are issues of affordable housing, domestic violence, the income gap between men and women, adequate funding for services and supports and the general community opinion towards those engaged in sex work to name just a few. To some this may seem hopeless but I would suggest instead that once we understand the complexity we can stop believing that there is a simple, straightforward and low-cost solution.
In some neighbourhoods the issue of street level sex work is an issue that has been identified through the community engagement process. This is one of the reasons that I have maintained a connection with the group originally convened by Joe-Anne Priel - General Manager of Community Services. This group has been meeting to think about how to move forward with a plan. While the group has lots of experience working with individuals involved in sex work we also realized that we still had a lot to learn and more importantly a lot to discuss about how to engage the many other stakeholders in the conversation in the future.
We have built a starting point of knowledge about the complexities of the issue and the various points of view that are present in our community. We all agreed that before we start to talk about programs or specific actions we need to ensure that education and understanding is the foundation we build on. There exists today an unhealthy gap in knowledge at the community level about the nature of sex work, the root causes of street level sex work and what interventions really make a difference. Likewise, the concerns raised by residents and businesses need to be taken seriously and not discounted.
We also agreed that a common starting point for action was a desire to make neighbourhoods safe and welcoming places for everyone. All those who live, work, play and learn in our neighbourhoods have rights and responsibilities and we all felt that engaging around a common theme of neighbourhood inclusion was a great place to start.
As we looked at work from other cities and thought about what is already happening in Hamilton it is clear that for programs or services to be successful they need to be comprehensive. I have always found the so-called “four pillar approach” to be a helpful framework. The four pillars are Prevention, Services, Harm Reduction, and Enforcement. To do this we would need an accurate inventory of services and supports, an analysis of where there are gaps and a business plan regarding the resources required to respond in a more holistic way. While the full implementation would be long-term some aspects could be started quickly and with smaller investments. What is critical is that each of the four pillars is given equal attention. This exercise cannot simply focus on, say, enforcement alone…it must recognize the role for every aspect of a comprehensive plan.
How we move forward remains a little tricky. There is still a lot of mistrust and polarization between the many groups that have an interest in this issue. Take the latest court cases as an example with respect to the legislation and legalization matter. That is why the group is now discussing how best to engage residents, businesses and other key stakeholders in the conversation.
Engagement at the neighbourhood level will grow and as it does it is our intent to work together to try new approaches that respect the rights of everyone involved and move us towards the goal of neighbourhoods that are safe and welcoming for all.
3. Notwithstanding your reply to question 2, there appears to be an array of programs and the existence of a safety net to help those who might otherwise fall into the world of street prostitution. In that context, are those programs and the safety net making an impact? To the extent that these measures may be failing or making a sub standard impact, what would you attribute that to? Is it a case of too little programming and funding, poorly orchestrated interventions, lack of strategic focus, other?
There is some really great work happening in Hamilton but the reality is that these services are woefully under-resourced. As a result, the great impact that services are making on the lives of those involved in sex work is not able to be “scaled up” to the level required. In addition, the complexities I referenced in Question #2 may limit the long term impact of these services. For instance, great services may exist to help an individual plan to leave sex work…but if affordable housing wait-lists are long, or access to meaningful employment is limited then the plan starts to fall apart. Or if access to health services to deal with addictions, physical and mental health challenges is not available or cost prohibitive then real progress can be slow.
I think that as we build a comprehensive plan in Hamilton the silos that may exist today will be broken down and we will have a stronger idea about how to invest in the services and supports that will help us achieve our desired outcomes.
4. Is there anything else you would like Hamiltonians to know about your role and mandate or about your work on these, or any other fronts?
Hamilton is a city of great neighbourhoods and all of the neighbourhoods have tremendous strengths and assets. I am pleased that residents and other key stakeholders in all of the neighbourhoods are willing to help tackle whatever challenges they face.
I look forward to supporting broader conversations about sex work at the neighbourhood level and working together on a strong community based strategy.
Thanks Paul for your engagement on The Hamiltonian. Any advice or observations for Paul?