[Hpn] Mayor urges ban on street sleeping

Graeme Bacque gbacque@colosseum.com
Sat, 15 Jan 2005 07:40:37 -0500


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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

CATHERINE PORTER
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 
public spaces.

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, 
Trinity-Spadina).

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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