[Hpn] Mayor urges ban on street sleeping
Sat, 15 Jan 2005 07:40:37 -0500
Jan. 15, 2005. 01:00 AM
Mayor urges ban on street sleeping
Wants to bar homeless from bedding down in public areas
But proposal also calls for more housing options and services
CITY HALL BUREAU
Toronto Mayor David Miller issued a plan yesterday to ban people from
sleeping in Nathan Phillips Square and other public spaces.
But that would come as a last resort. The plan also calls for increased
services and housing options for street people in the hopes that most
will leave the street voluntarily.
"We'll find out what people need, whether it's counselling, a detox
centre, and help them find an apartment or shelter. We're convinced most
of them would, after all those support services have been presented, go
... to a shelter or decent affordable housing," said the city's
Community Services Committee chair, Councillor Olivia Chow, discussing
the plan on Miller's behalf yesterday.
"What we are saying is there is something wrong with our society if
people are sleeping on the streets. We have collectively a
responsibility to do something."
The $18.4 million plan, which still has to be approved by council, is
the city's "commitment to ending street homelessness." It sets out a
four-pronged approach, including increasing street outreach, building
more affordable housing, lobbying senior governments for more support
and, finally, enforcing the rules that restrict people from sleeping in
As part of the plan, the city would:
Build 1,000 new affordable housing units every year, half of which will
be targeted for low-income households.
Hire six new outreach workers for one year to help people living on the
street get counselling, personal identification, medical assistance,
storage for their belongings, financial assistance and housing, among
other things. The outreach program will be overseen by a new steering
committee made up of city and community workers, as well as the police.
Open another emergency shelter next winter.
Develop a method to count the people living on the streets so the
program's success can be monitored.
Work with hospitals and jails to ensure discharged patients and convicts
have a home after their release.
Lobby the provincial government to build more supportive housing units,
issue more rent supplements, and increase the number of mental health,
addiction-treatment and infirmary beds for homeless people.
Enforce a ban on people sleeping in Nathan Phillips Square and other
public spaces like bus shelters, but only after all other efforts are
made. Notice will be given in advance and when the ban is enacted,
outreach workers will be there to "continue providing supports to
individuals who up to that point had not accepted outreach services,"
states the city's proposed protocol.
But, even if it passes it, the city will only rarely be able to enforce
the new ban. The report points out that police can use some provincial
laws like the Trespassing Act and the Mental Health Act to remove people
from the streets. But the city is not legally permitted to enforce
bylaws that "affect one's person," meaning ones that require arrest,
detention or the use of force.
"We don't have the legal means to say a person has to be indoors unless
we can determine they're a public safety problem," said Chow (Ward 20,
That will be the source of much debate at next Wednesday's Policy and
Finance Committee meeting, when the plan will be unveiled, said
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East).
"The real question not addressed in the report is will we enforce both
the bylaws and the Trespassing Act?" he said. "Will we tell police to
remove the people?"
After the committee meeting, the plan will go to council for debate at
the beginning of next month.
Right-wing councillor Doug Holyday said he wants to see the ban enforced
immediately. But he doesn't think the city should throw more money at
the homeless problem.
"We've already spent enough money. We have enough staff," said Holyday
(Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre). "If what people are already doing is not
productive, let's change their direction."
All of the plan's funding would come from city and federal reserves —
the majority stemming from a 1995 settlement with the provincial
government, after then-premier Mike Harris cancelled social housing
projects in the city.
Homelessness advocate Michael Shapcott said New York City's ban on
people sleeping on the street only filled up the jails. It didn't reduce
the number of people without homes in the city, he said. "It's not
compassionate and it's not effective," said Shapcott, who is chair of
the National Housing and Homelessness Network.
And even though the city has committed to building more affordable
housing, it won't be built by the spring, when the city's 80-bed
emergency shelter closes and all the Out of the Cold programs shut down,
said street nurse Cathy Crowe.
"The big question is where will people go?" she said, criticizing the
plan as "not creative," "rushed" and "reactive."
"I worry about the vagueness of it. Who will judge whether someone's
been worked with enough before they enforce the bylaw? Then what
happens, will they be taken to jail?"
Miller was on his way to Paris for an international mayors' meeting on
South Asian tsunami relief yesterday and wasn't available for comment.
Additional articles by Catherine Porter
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