Can I see your ID? The policing of homelessness in Toronto.
Written by Bill OGrady, Stephen Gaetz and Kristy Buccieri. Published by Justice for Children and Youth and Homeless Hub Press, 2011.
This report highlights the day-to-day reality of homeless youth in Toronto in the context of the implementation of the Ontario Safe Streets Act (O.S.S.A). This legislation criminalizes panhandling, squeegeeing and other behavior labeled undesirable. The authors contend that ticketing homeless youth for loitering, public drinking, squeegeeing and panhandling is a form of social profiling which not only creates a nearly insurmountable financial burden on an already impoverished group, but also punishes the homeless for their behavior in public spaces when it is, in fact, their lack of a private space (i.e. their homelessness) which forces them to occupy such public spaces.
The authors contend that the Ontario Safe Streets Act only exacerbates the problems of homeless and that it does nothing to help homeless youth become 'housed'. In their view, the O.S.S.A. not only makes it nearly impossible for homeless youth to exist in public spaces, but it penalizes some of the only revenue-generating practices available to them (i.e. panhandling and squeegeeing). The authors blame the neo-liberal approach to governance for the lack of adequate government programming to create the support networks necessary to get youth off the street and into housing, employment and other elements of normal life. They also present findings from numerous interviews conducted among homeless youth and their perception of how they are treated by police.
This report builds a compelling case for the consideration of the rights of homeless citizens to live and exist in public spaces while balancing the rights of housed citizens to feel safe in their public environment. They highlight an important point that perhaps issuing fines to the most impoverished segment of society is not the most effective approach for resolving the challenges related to homelessness. One proposed alternative to fines included community service; this not only would help remove the homeless citizens extra financial burden from tickets but would also serve as a possible step towards gainful employment and social networking. This could move them one step closer to a sustainable lifestyle among societys housed.
Though the extensive inventory of the perceptions of the homeless concerning their interactions with the police is interesting on a psychological and social level, it remains a somewhat one-sided view of the issue. There was frequent mention of homeless youth reporting excessive and negative attention from the police; the authors would have a much more compelling case to be able to better quantify and qualify these statements with some sort of objective proof that indeed police misconduct had or had not occurred. It would also be interesting to complement this research with a similar survey of police and security officers responsible for enforcing this Act so as to better assess whether the Ontario Safe Streets Act is indeed accomplishing its objectives.
Policymakers, law enforcement personnel (police/security officers/etc.) and anyone with an interest in human rights would find this report interesting and compelling.
Review by Kristen Leppington