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Affordable Housing Advocates Say Toronto Is Trying to Ban Homelessness

Proposed new bylaw raising fears that sleeping on the streets may soon be criminalized.

Photo by {a href=""}DdotG{/a} from the {a href=""}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Despite assurances to the contrary from the City, advocates for affordable housing are concerned that a little-known provision of a proposed new streets bylaw harmonization will effectively outlaw homelessness in Toronto.

The draft Streets Bylaw is an attempt to harmonize seven existing bylaws (one for each of the former municipalities, plus Metro Toronto) that govern what people can and can’t do on Toronto’s streets and sidewalks. It has been public since June 23, when the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee gave it preliminary approval. It has yet to be enacted, and entered public consultations yesterday.

The new bylaw has mostly to do with preventing street obstructions and regulating road work. The concerns some have are with one of its sections (§ 743-12, specifically), entitled “Camping, dwelling and lodging prohibited.”

The section says simply: “No person shall, without the approval of the General Manager, camp, dwell or lodge on a street” [PDF].

None of the previous seven bylaws contained language like that, according to a report by City staff. Yet staff maintain that the intent is not to give the City new enforcement powers, but only to clarify what powers the City already had.

“It was never our intention that [the draft bylaw] would be written for the purposes of using it as a dragnet to round up homeless people,” says Allan Smithies, project manager for traffic planning and right-of-way management at the City.

Smithies says camping and lodging on City streets was prohibited under the old streets bylaws, too—just not explicitly.

“It was covered under what was called an obstruction or encumbrance provision of those bylaws,” he says.

But Michael Shapcott, a director at the Wellesley Institute, a local social-justice think tank, believes the new bylaw, if enacted, would inevitably be used to make life more difficult for those without homes.

“The language itself is completely neutral,” he says, “but it is really targetting an activity associated with homelessness.”

“Sleeping is absolutely necessary for human beings to stay alive, and what this bylaw is saying is you can’t sleep in public places, and I think it’s going to very quickly get some attention.”

Photo by {a href=""}BrndnTd{/a} from the {a href=""}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Other housing advocates haven’t raised any alarms in the more than two months since the draft bylaw was released to the public, and Shapcott thinks this was an oversight. “This has been very much under the radar screen,” he says.

Kenn Hale, director of legal services for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, also believes the draft bylaw’s language is designed to target the city’s homeless population.

“I don’t really know what it’s doing in this bylaw that’s supposed to be about digging holes in streets and things,” he says. “We are planning on speaking out against it.”

All of this comes at a time when the mayor’s close allies have been airing dissatisfaction with Toronto’s panhandlers in the media. “There are other jurisdictions that have strong panhandling laws in effect and that’s what we need here,” Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday told the Sun at the beginning of June. Mayor Ford himself put it even more bluntly in an interview with CityNews: “You warn ‘em once, warn ‘em twice, three times, and that’s it—you put ‘em in jail for a day or two,” he said, while describing his ideal panhandling policy.

Other municipalities have tried to enact legislation that bans activities associated with homelessness. In 2008, an anti-camping bylaw was struck down in Victoria, British Columbia, after activists challenged the law in court.

Toronto itself, in 2005, banned people from sleeping in public squares, and initiated its Streets to Homes program in an attempt to find housing for some of them.

Giorgio Mammoliti was appointed head of a homelessness task force by Mayor Ford earlier this summer. He did not respond to our request for comment on the proposed Streets Bylaw. Public consultation is ongoing; a schedule of open houses is available online [PDF].


  • ife

    Maybe if we had more housing???? You can’t put someone in jail for not having a home!

    • ife

      And the ironic (or maybe not so much) thing about this is that those councilors and the mayor seem to take a pretty firm stance against funding community housing….

  • Chris Cudmore

    Really, “Criminalizing Homelessness?” Has Rob Ford decided that he has Federal Powers now?

    To be fair, the article doesn’t use the word, but the sensationalist sub-headline does. Shame on you Torontoist.

  • Anonymous

    Hey, TO-ist, having every tweet-share show up in the comments is really annoying and renders the comments thread sort of useless.

    • Corbin Smith

      “Comments” and “reactions” are separated. Though yes, before there are any “comments” things do look a little wonky.

  • Corbin Smith

    Great – so Mammoliti is out filming homeless people now. Fantastic.

  • Shkaplan

    This new bylaw is in no way anti-homeless or anti-poor! It makes it illegal to sleep on the street whether you are rich or poor. The law does not discriminate on the basis of wealth.

    • Anonymous

      Bullshit! It does discriminate against the poor and homeless by forcing them to sleep where they don’t feel safe (and for many, that’s a homeless shelter, a lot of which are overflowing & overcrowded.) Where would you have them sleep?

    • Anonymous

      Your comment is so ridiculous I actually laughed out loud. There is a bit of spittle on my monitor.

  • Anonymous

    So… what’s the problem?

    Sorry gang but I don’t feel obliged to provide houses for every person who refuses to abide by community rules.

    There are ways to contribute to this community to improve your situation and frankly most of these people have signaled they don’t care. They are yet another entitled group.

  • D.T.W.T.

    The problem with lack of housing is people living in TCHC housing think it is forever home. TCHC should be temporary. Get a job a mcdonalds, if that is not enough then you get a second job. Like the rest of us.
    No one has the right to live in the streets. If you have drug/alcohol addiction then you go get treatment. If you have mental health issues then you go to CAMH (or is it CAHM?).

    Swallow your pride, go to a shelter. Get yourself some training and work. Even if it’s asking me at 2am if I want fries with that. Move up the ladder.

    There is such an abuse in TCHC. THere is someone there living for 12 years. So in 12 years you couldn’t get a job or two and find your own private rental place? This person doesn’t any mental health issues.

    • Anonymous

      Do you have any idea how much a job like that pays? Not enough to move out of poverty like you or toonsky wants people to.

      Also, there is no ‘abuse’ in TCHC buildings; many people of different economic backgrounds live in them cheek by jowl, some of them paying market rent. Your attempt to paint TCHC as such is completely bogus, and reeks of being brainwashed both by Sun TV and Faux Noise. Please read some more and do more research before you open your mouth on this subject again.

    • Joy

      A different take on the question, “Why don’t social housing tenants move on?”’t-social-housing-tenants-move-on/

    • Anonymous

      Most people nowadays are one pay cheque away from becoming homeless, I’ve almost been homeless several times due to a recurring illness that leaves me unable to work, well I would’ve been reduced to getting rid of all my belongings and sleeping on a friend’s couch anyways, but luckily my parents were able to help me avoid eviction and later on when they couldn’t help Rent Bank did, which Ford is trying to do away with even though its a very low cost housing support program that makes interest free loans to people who could otherwise afford their apt. but are going through temporary financial problems, the repayment rates are set so as not to create even more financial hardship but all the money still gets repaid so it really only costs the city the salaries of the staff who administer the program, much of the pool of money for lending out comes from the province, not the city. Still Ford wants to cut this program which is about a cheap a housing support program as their is.

      Many people end up in TCHC housing for the rest of their lives because their on ODSP and incapable of working due to illness, other’s cannot hold down a job for long for a whole variety of reasons beyond their control. Not everyone is healthy both physically and mentally and for a lot of illnesses or for certain people, there is no cure for their illness, the best they can do is maybe improve their situation a little bit so life is more tolerable, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to work. As well unemployment is a crucial feature of a capitalist society such as ours, there always has to be a pool of unemployed people and people who can only get very low wage jobs and so are unable to afford market rate apts. Without unemployment there would be no reserve pool of labour to draw upon when expansion is needed and no one to do the very low paying, dangerous and dirty work. Keeping a bunch of people unemployed is as critical a component of capitalism as is the need for continual expansion. People can hardly be blamed for being unemployed in a system that demands that many be kept unemployed or seriously under paid.

    • Sarbux

      You don’t even have a clue D.T.W.T.. wow.. do you have any idea what it’s like in TCHC.. i’ve lived in it all my life and now raising my own kids in it because I had to get out of an abusive relationship. I ONLY WISH I COULD get a FREAKING JOB!! I’ve been trying for 3 years now!!!!!!! Not even Timmies will hire me because i’ve been out of the work force so long to raise MY kids!! If it were that easy to “Just get a job” don’t you think i’d be doing it by now?? I’ve tried so hard for my children and I get nothing but judgements and Ignorance!!

  • Leigh Halliday

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