A judge’s ruling focuses attention on the homeless crisis

Posted on February 6, 2023 in Inclusion Policy Context

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
Feb. 6, 2023.   By Star Editorial Board

A court ruling that Waterloo cannot dismantle an encampment may oblige governments to do a better job of ensuring that people have shelter.

Sometimes, as Dickens’s Mr. Bumble so pointedly put it, “the law is a ass . . . a idiot.” At other times, interpreted by a shrewd justice, it seems practically Solomonic in its wisdom.

Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice ruled last week that the Region of Waterloo cannot dismantle a homeless encampment on a vacant city lot in Kitchener because of lack of space in the shelter facilities.

The court found the City of Kitchener’s effort to remove about 50 residents of the encampment to be a violation of their Charter rights.

In essence, the court said that in the absence of adequate space in the shelter system the camp’s residents simply have nowhere else to go.

Justice Michael Valente found that the region’s bylaw “violates section 7 of the Charterin that it deprives the homeless residents of the encampment of life, liberty and security of the person.”

His ruling said the “ability to provide adequate shelter for oneself is a necessity of life that falls within the right to life” protected under that section.

Social justice advocates say that finding — which builds on cases in British Columbia that found evictions from homeless camps infringed on rights provided for under the charter — could set a precedent for Toronto (where the decision was being reviewed) and elsewhere.

Shannon Down, executive-director of the Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, expressed hope that the ruling will press municipalities to take a more compassionate approach and recognize the harm caused when encampments are cleared. “”All it really does is perpetuate harms to the people who are living in those encampments, and in most cases make their lives worse and increases the risk to them.”

Sean Simpell, one of the encampment residents, was quoted in the ruling as saying he feared he would lose everything. “This encampment may seem like garbage to some people, but to the people living here, it’s everything.”

The ruling found that even though the city argued that there was technically enough space, those beds were not practically available in that some wouldn’t take couples, or were co-ed, or not co-ed, or forbade use of substances on which those with addictions depend.

This is hardly a choice between easy or appealing options. As Valente noted, homelessness is an “unfortunate, complex and nation-wide social issue.”

Encampment is a glorified term for a cluster of structures on a half-acre gravel lot that is destined to become a parking lot for a new transit station.

The region said rat droppings and rodent burrows were found on the site, along with human feces and urine. There are hazardous propane tanks. And local businesses have complained about trespassing, physical altercations and alcohol and drug use.

Valente did note that because the property in question here was a vacant lot rather than a park, there was no need to consider how the encampment might impede the rights of other residents.

No one wants vacant lots and city parks thrown open to ramshackle encampments.

Still, as we have seen in Toronto, the images of heavy equipment and large police deployments being used to roust the ragged, troubled and dispossessed and consign them to the dubious mercies of the streets should trouble all consciences.

Clearing encampments is traumatizing for those being moved, costly for taxpayers and ultimately counter-productive, since it only serves to displace unhoused individuals rather than provide lasting accommodation.

This ruling shines a spotlight on the fact shelters are running near capacity and that high rents and lack of affordable housing and absence of housing alternatives have consequences.

By doing so, it might oblige governments to do a better job of ensuring that people — especially the vulnerable and disadvantaged — have shelter.


Tags: , , , ,

This entry was posted on Monday, February 6th, 2023 at 11:28 am and is filed under Inclusion Policy Context. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply