[Hpn] City of Toronto passes no-sleeping bylaw

Graeme Bacque gbacque@colosseum.com
Thu, 20 Jan 2005 09:43:07 -0500


Jan. 20, 2005. 07:17 AM

Homeless face icy reception
Can't sleep in Nathan Phillips Square
Mayor promises no arrests in his plan


The city moved one step closer yesterday to banning homeless people from 
sleeping in Nathan Phillips Square, despite a public outpouring of 

Mayor David Miller assured a small crowd that had gathered to protest 
the move the ban would only be a "little nudge" to move people along 
once they get the supports they need from outreach workers.

"Nobody is proposing arresting people. I don't think that's acceptable. 
It's not illegal to be poor in this country and it shouldn't be," he 
said after the city's policy and finance committee overwhelmingly 
approved his plan to end street homelessness in Toronto.

"However, the strategy is to get people the services they need where 
they are, on the street, particularly in Nathan Phillips Square, and 
find them housing options. And once they're offered options, to let them 
know they need to move on."

The report will now proceed to city council at the end of the month, 
where it will likely be approved.

Councillor Howard Moscoe said it's wrong for people to appropriate 
public space by living there full-time.

"Public space is public space. Nobody has the right to take public space 
and make it private space. And if the Bank of Commerce set up in Nathan 
Phillips Square to peddle credit cards without a licence or authority of 
the city, I'd be the first to throw them off," said Moscoe (Ward 15, 

Councillor Maria Augimeri (Ward 9, York Centre) provided the only 
dissenting voice among the 10-member committee, calling the ban a way of 
"stomping on humanity."

Miller's plan commits $18.4 million to helping get people living on the 
street into homes. It sets out a four-pronged approach, including hiring 
six new outreach workers to provide one-on-one service to people on the 
street, building 1,000 new affordable housing units every year and 
lobbying senior governments to build more supportive housing units, 
issue more rent supplements and increase the number of mental health and 
addiction-treatment beds for homeless people.

But, it is the fourth prong  enforcement  that people came to city 
hall to contest yesterday.

`It's not illegal to be poor in this country and it shouldn't be'

Mayor David Miller

More than 30 people packed the committee room and spent almost five 
hours calling the proposed ban on sleeping in the square before city 
hall "illegal," "inhumane," "disturbing," "ill-advised," and a form of 
"social cleansing."

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty member Gaetan Heroux threatened 
councillors that the ban would signal a war against the city's homeless.

"If this city wants to encourage its people, its citizens, to adopt a 
policy of social cleansing, then we will adopt a policy of social 
unrest," he warned.

Homeless advocate Michael Shapcott called the ban the "thin edge of the 
wedge" and worried it would lead to the criminalization of street 
homelessness everywhere in the city.

"Nathan Phillip Square is relatively safe. It's relatively visible. If 
you drive people out of visible spaces like Nathan Phillips Square, it 
will be harder to reach them," said Shapcott, a member of the Toronto 
Disaster Relief Committee.

Provincial outreach worker Sheryl Lindsay, who has helped women with 
mental health issues living on the street for 17 years, concurred that 
outreach can't exist in a coercive environment.

"This is the antithesis of trying to build supports and relationships 
with people," she said. "I really feel that it will drive people 
underground ... away to places where they are more at risk."

University of Toronto criminology professor Mariana Valverde warned the 
ban is not practically enforceable and symbolically negative.

"Homeless people have a greater claim to the city's public space than 
those of us who have plenty of private space," she argued.

Only two people spoke publicly in support of the ban.

Preparing for a crowd it worried might become aggressive, the city took 
extra security measures, stationing five guards inside the committee 
room and locking all entrances to city hall to the public except one.

The precautions were unnecessary: the crowd remained peaceful.

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