There have been a number of reports produced over the past year that detail the lengths that some cities are going to resolve the homeless situation. Unfortunately the solutions mainly seem to revolve around the concept of making homelessness an illegal activity, rather than getting to the heart of the issue and actually trying to fix the problem.

Of course the legislation does not usually specifically mention the homeless, it is usually thinly disguised as an inner city revitalization, or as an attempt to make the streets a more family oriented environment.

In January 2006 The National Coalition for the Homeless released a comprehensive report detailing the activities of over 200 US cities.

Calgary has now joined this growing list of cities that has decided that the best way to solve the problem is to make it an offence. In classic style no mention is made of the homeless in the legislation, but you would have to be blind, or have spent the last 50 years living on Mars to not see who this legislation is aimed at.

To draw attention away from the main purpose of the legislation much is made of how it gives the police better tools (bigger fines) for people fighting and being disorderly in public. Calgary is an Ice Hockey city, and the fans can get a little rowdy during the playoffs, is the official reason.

However when the layers are peeled back on this new Calgary law it is clear that it is far wider in scope than dealing with a few drunk hockey fans fighting after a game, it is definitely targeted at the homeless.

For example, it makes it illegal to sleep in a public park. Well I am pretty sure that this is one item that is going to be selectively enforced. If you are well dressed, on your lunch hour, and decide to have a ‘cat nap’, I’ll just bet the police will not bother you. If on the other hand you have a couple of bags, maybe your clothes are a little scruffy, you haven’t shaved today, well I’ll just bet you are going to get a $100 ticket.

You can rack up another $100 ticket for putting your feet up on a public bench. While I think common courtesy says that you should not do that, I am not sure that it warrants a fine. Once again I can see this bylaw being selectively enforced. My wife suffers from some pretty serious back problems, and if she got a ticket for putting her feet up on a bench, I would be pretty annoyed (and it would not be at her!). 

One of the problems I have with this kind of law making is that the people it targets are the people least able to fight it.

The other glaring hole in this kind of ill thought out law making is ‘where is the gain’? You can hand out a thousand tickets for these stupid infractions, and exactly how many of the offenders are going to pay the fines? The answer is none.

The next time, or the time after that, there will be a bench warrant outstanding. So the police will do their duty and arrest the person. They will likely keep them in jail overnight, and stick them in front of a judge the next day. The judge will schedule a court date, and the perpetrator of this heinous crime goes free, till the next time.

It is going to be impossible to collect on these fines. Why even try to fine people that obviously have no money? This is going to have the exact opposite result to the intention, this new criminalization of the Calgary homeless is going to cost money, lots of tax payers money. Of course the City Council will just raise taxes to cover the problem!

This is just classic stupid politics. It makes me embarrassed to think that we voted these people into office. Grade 2 math shows that this is a mistake!

Simon Barrett

http://zzsimonb.blogspot.com

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