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The Right to Sleep
October 26, 2008 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Crimes of Necessity On Oct. 14 2008 the B.C. Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision declaring that, due to the lack of adequate homeless shelters, it was unconstitutional for the City of Victoria to prevent homeless individuals from erecting temporary structures for protection from the elements. The ruling culminates a multi-year campaign by David Arthur Johnston to establish the "right to sleep". As the decision is based on an interpretation of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the ruling applies to every municipality in Canada. In the wake of the decision, Victoria City Council passed a resolution which stipulates that such shelters must be removed by 7:00 each morning.

David Arthur Johnston's Journal of the Occupation of St. Ann’s Academy (January 2004 to October 2008, chronological with the newest updates at the bottom.)
Hope in a Homeless World (Monday Magazine)
Park camps a useful push for real change (Victoria Times-Colonist)
Tent City judgment is a revolution (The Republic of East Vancouver)
Love and Fearlessness (full 90 minute documentary covering events leading up to the ruling.)
posted by dinsdale (100 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think that is awesome. People are people, and we all need some shelter, and a place to lay our heads.

Good job, B.C. Supreme Court.
posted by paisley henosis at 5:18 PM on October 26, 2008


Just sad, especially considering that homelessness shelters aren't exactly wonderful places either. Why is this such a painful intractable problem? I love that line from Gavin Newsom where he's like--slamming Giuliani--"shelters don't solve homelessness. Shelters solve sleep."
posted by Non Prosequitur at 5:19 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Finally, a sane...wait. BC. City of Victoria?

YOU BLEW IT UP! YOU BASTARDS! DAMN YOU TO HELL!!!!
posted by DU at 5:23 PM on October 26, 2008


A postscript: if we posit a future judgement that during the Canadian winter a right to shelter must exist (to avoid the same unconstitutional harm to the homeless) how can planning laws deal with temporary structures? If they can exist during the day nothing seems to stop me from just erecting a shed. I'm also curious as to how big the night-time temporary structure can be. Do constitutional rights trump zoning laws or the criminal prohibition against obstruction of the highway or sidewalk? What here would stop me erecting a inflatable airport hangar and using it to shelter many people, or to house a few members of the homeless in it while I also use it for my church service/midnight feast/supremely evil cabal meeting?

But random law student musings aside, good job. Being homeless in Canada must be *cold*.
posted by jaduncan at 5:34 PM on October 26, 2008


I wonder how many shelter beds they will have to add to be "adequate"?

My sense is that even with the best and most perfect social services system in the world, and the most utopian and fair society imaginable, some small percentage of people are simply going to opt for some version of homelessness by choice, or will simply fall through the intersecting cracks of mental issues, trauma, substance abuse, and so on. So I don't think that a realistic goal is to have zero people sleeping rough, even in utopia.

That said, I think the pervasiveness of homelessness (especially when you add in the much larger but less visible category of people who don't have a place of their own but get by sleeping on friends' couches and the like), and the overlapping issue of food insecurity, are the most glaring failures of many modern societies.

Today, with all the resources we have, there is just no excuse for every child in a first world nation not to be eating three good meals every day, and for someone to be forced to be sleeping in a park or under a bridge. There are a lot of shades of grey in the world, but there are also some pretty clear moral issues, and I guess for me this is one of them.
posted by Forktine at 5:39 PM on October 26, 2008


I think that is awesome. People are people, and we all need some shelter, and a place to lay our heads.

I live in Victoria, within walking distance of Beacon Hill Park. My son is six years old, and we take him to the park regularly. David Arthur Johnston led an effort to pitch tents and make an encampment in the gazebo of the childrens playground at the park.

I must say that I am disgusted by the fact that we must take care that there are no needles where our son plays in the playground. I also am dismayed that there is human excrement in the park, and also on the grounds of South Park School.

The stolen property (usually bicycles but also copper wiring, etc) secreted around the park is also a problem.

I must also say that, after a visit to Bean Around the World in Chinatown, we had to yank our son away from a drug deal at the corner of the street.

There is inadequate shelter for homeless people in Victoria. There needs to be better services to help with dual-diagnosis folks living with mental illness and drug dependency. I don't think we can blame the City of Victoria, because Victoria has to shoulder the burden of homelessness, drugs and petty crime, with little or no help from the surrounding municipalities of Saanich, Oak Bay and Esquimalt. And the province is probably doing the best it can, but, at the end of the day, the Federal government has to step up to the plate.

The politics alone make the situation far from being resolved.

However, I must insist that our city also be livable for children.

And, at the end of the day, David Arthur Johnston does not represent the voice of homeless people living with drug addiction and mental illness, or an underpaid underclass of workers who cannot afford the rent in Victoria.

David Arthur Johnston represents his own selfish interests. He is a kook who got lucky, and has nothing to offer society. Nothing at all.

I think it's important for MeFites who are unfamiliar with the situation to realize that people in Victoria are sympathetic to the plight of the homeless here. Victorians themselves shoulder the burden and are doing all they can. But it is David Arthur Johnston's choice to live outside. He is not mentally ill. He is quite educated. And we should not feel any pity for him.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:52 PM on October 26, 2008 [13 favorites]


Speaking as someone from Vancouver, Victoria has a hell of a reputation as regressive, suburban-minded area which provides little to no support for the homeless; their attitude is pretty accurately portrayed by KokuRyu's comment above. I grew up in Vancouver, and homeless people and drug use were something I was aware of at a very early age, but they definitely aren't things that scarred me emotionally or hindered my upbringing by being exposed to them. Frankly, I feel pretty safe in Vancouver's infamous Downtown East Side - homeless people are pretty much the last people in the world who are going to hurt you, they are just going to break into your car if you lock it and leave valuables inside, and I can't really blame them.

I agree that the heart of the (sadly, growing) homeless problem in BC is the gutting of social services, specifically mental health services. We treat the mentally ill like shit here, absolute shit. It's heartbreaking.
posted by mek at 6:02 PM on October 26, 2008 [13 favorites]


Speaking as someone from Vancouver, Victoria has a hell of a reputation as regressive, suburban-minded area which provides little to no support for the homeless; their attitude is pretty accurately portrayed by KokuRyu's comment above.

I didn't say that it scarred me or my son. I did also point out that most if not all people in Victoria want something done: more housing, more treatment, better management of drug use such as needle exchanges, safe injection sites. At least that's what I want, which is hardly regressive.

Frankly, I feel pretty safe in Vancouver's infamous Downtown East Side

Good for fucking you mek. You're so edgy, it makes my lily-white bourgeois ass just shake with fear.

However, I wonder how safe the 50+ women murdered by Pickton felt in the Downtown Eastside. How safe do the people with the highest HIV rate in North America feel in the downtown eastside?

Probably not safe at all.

We should not have people shitting in doorways. We should not have people discarding needles in childrens playgrounds. We should not have people breaking into cars to steal cigarette lighters or CD collections.

We should provide safe housing, increase mental health services, and get people off drugs.

If that makes me regressive, well, I'm fine with that.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:09 PM on October 26, 2008 [14 favorites]


david johnston is a bit like john scopes. he's the test case. whatever his intentions happen to be, they aren't necessarily relevant, nor does he represent homeless people in general (they're a diverse bunch).

i'm not sure i entirely agree that victorians are sympathetic. a significant minority are, but i get the sense that people wouldn't sweat it if the homeless simply began to disappear. the majority's attitude towards the homeless in general is a source of deep shame for me.

my girlfriend's brother is homeless in calgary. you never realize, until you try to help someone in that situation, how the entire system, even the services designed to help, seems geared to preventing people from getting back into society.
posted by klanawa at 6:09 PM on October 26, 2008


A few blocks away from my apartment a homeless shelter operated by a group founded after a man froze to death in our neighborhood in 1979 is being evicted by the church from which it rents space. My lovely neighbors to the south gloat about challenging the now-outdated registrations of voters registered at the Salvation Army center they succeeding in shutting down a month ago. I wonder how many beds Victoria could pay for with the money it's going to spend appealing this ruling.
posted by enn at 6:28 PM on October 26, 2008


Frankly, I feel pretty safe in Vancouver's infamous Downtown East Side.

Well, problem solved, mek feels "safe" there.

klanawa, Calgary has evolved--in the few short years since the Drop-in Centre and the SA "Centre of Hope" opened and turned the East Village from a merely poor neighbourhood into a crack-fueled fantasyland whose only urban rival for pure, putrid human misery (in Canada) is Vancouver's DES--to be perhaps the single best example of the poverty industry at work in Canada. Anybody who lives in, say, Bridgeland or Inglewood (or the East Village, of course) can attest to this: We had a homeless "problem" before these facilities opened; we now have the highest homeless population of any city in the country per capita, and a coterie of agencies whose existence depends on this increase.

And yes, it's cold.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 6:53 PM on October 26, 2008


I wonder how many beds Victoria could pay for with the money it's going to spend appealing this ruling.

I wonder how many people in this thread know exactly what "Victoria" is? Folks from Vancouver or other larger cities may be unaware of how small the city affected by the ruling is, and the sheer scale of the problem the city has to tackle on its own. Vancouver is about ten times as large, and has the political clout to discuss these issues at a provincial or even a national level. Victoria does not.

The municipality itself is about 80,000 people, and is just one of the municipalities that are part of the Capital Regional District, which has has a population of 330,000. The CRD is essentially an extra layer of bureaucracy that provides some coordination for regional initiatives, but it does not act as a regional municipal government. Each of the municipalities that form the CRD are autonomous, and are not amalgamated.

This lack of amalgamation is one of the roadblocks to dealing with the homeless issue, because the City of Victoria must shoulder the burden for the larger population of 330,000. Most of the services for the homeless and those living with dual-diagnosis are located in the downtown core. Needless to say, the City of Victoria itself provides most of the funding for these initiatives, and the city works hard to coordinate with the various agencies and non-profits that provide services to the homeless.

The ruling affects the City of Victoria alone, and the city has every right to appeal it. The homeless are just one constituency in Victoria, and city hall has the obligation to ensure quality of life for all citizens, not just those who want to set up tent cities in endangered Garry Oak meadows or childrens playgrounds.

I think it is important to ask why Saanich (population 108,000) is not playing a greater role in providing services for the homeless. It's often said that Saanich police (there is no regional police force) often transport homeless folks into the downtown core.

You don't see many homeless people in suburban Saanich, but I don't think it's fair to say that people are callous or indifferent. People need to be educated about the causes and the solutions the issue.

We get nowhere by calling people regressive or insensitive or suburban.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:56 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Excellent post. Ain't capitalism fun?

There will be some interesting work done with shelters that can be taken down quickly in the morning.

What worries me about this development is rich Canadians may decide it's cheaper to permit sleeping outside than to invest in homes for the homeless.
posted by shetterly at 6:59 PM on October 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


My sense is that even with the best and most perfect social services system in the world, and the most utopian and fair society imaginable, some small percentage of people are simply going to opt for some version of homelessness by choice, or will simply fall through the intersecting cracks of mental issues, trauma, substance abuse, and so on. So I don't think that a realistic goal is to have zero people sleeping rough, even in utopia.

This is an unfortunate conclusion many have arrived at. The shelter model was a bad model from the very beginning, as many who were involved in building the first shelters publicly acknowledge. The shelter model did nothing but establish an underclass known as "the homeless." Its essential function was never to end homelessness, but to maintain a marginalized population considered to be of an acceptable size to those who are not marginalized. So, because the model was flawed, a fundamentally bad idea that was rushed into place at the dawn of the crack epidemic when the streets suddenly swelled with people falling out of housing, people have concluded twenty five years later that there are these people who are and will always be homeless, despite the fact that the concept of a "homeless person" only came into existence in our lifetime. Homelessness isn't something that has been around since the dawn of time. Better ideas and policies will hopefully end it during our lifetime, as well.

I've been in shelters, worked with closely and strenuously with probably a hundred shelter dwelling clients, done street outreach on cold nights talking to the dudes who refuse to go to shelter about their decision to stay outdoors. It's always the same shit, "I got robbed in there," "I got stabbed in there," "I'm trying to get clean and there are people shooting dope and smoking rocks in there," etc.

This court decision is good for those who want the choice not to have to subject themselves to the inhumanity of the shelter system, though choosing the indignity of street living isn't exactly a great alternative. These shouldn't be the only two choices for those without housing in first world nations.
posted by The Straightener at 7:12 PM on October 26, 2008 [13 favorites]


However, I wonder how safe the 50+ women murdered by Pickton felt in the Downtown Eastside. How safe do the people with the highest HIV rate in North America feel in the downtown eastside?

Ironically, you make my point - most of these women were homeless, sex-workers, drug addicts, or some combination of the three, and were victimized by an upper-middle class businessman. HIV runs rampant in the drug addict and homeless populations. But when was the last time you heard about some innocent contracting HIV by stepping on a dirty needle while commuting home? It doesn't happen, it's just a bogeyman used to persecute the less fortunate.

I agree completely with you that the system has failed these people, and that they are trapped in unsafe living conditions. A long-term solution this is not, but letting them sleep in tents does not threaten children's safety.

And ethnomethodologist, Calgary only had a minor homeless "problem" before because that was "solved" by giving them bus tickets to Vancouver.
posted by mek at 7:12 PM on October 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


the concept of a "homeless person" only came into existence in our lifetime

there were plenty of homeless people in older times, such as the great depression
posted by pyramid termite at 7:24 PM on October 26, 2008


Also worth noting that Vancouver and Victoria have the mildest winters of cities in Canada, and some of the highest per-capita income on average. If you're on the street they're among the two best places to be in the country. So Victorians face a bit of a catch-22, in that the better they (pop. 80,000) take care of the homeless folks living there, the better a national destination it will become.

I lived a few years in Victoria, and slept a few nights at youth hostels there. Sketchiest hostels I've ever been at in my life, largest proportion of street people I've seen in Canada so far, and the only place I've stumbled around a corner into someone mid-heroin injection.
posted by anthill at 7:24 PM on October 26, 2008


This really is a great post, made even more interesting by the resulting discussion. Based on a sample of the first 30 minutes, that "Love and Fearlessness" video is worth your time. The section from 21:00 to 40 or so might be a good counter to KokuRyu's claim that "David Arthur Johnston represents his own selfish interests. He is a kook who got lucky, and has nothing to offer society. Nothing at all."

Actually, so far, he seems like someone who has quite a bit to offer society because (as the film notes at 21:08) "he refuses to 'move along' in order to expose the fact that all public land becomes private after 10pm and there is nowhere he can sleep without being a criminal."

I dunno about you, but that moment between 9:59 and 10:01pm when public land becomes private sure seems to me like something it wouldn't be "kooky" to examine more closely.
posted by mediareport at 7:26 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


First 40 minutes of that video, I should have said. 21:00 to 40:00 is really interesting.
posted by mediareport at 7:27 PM on October 26, 2008


there were plenty of homeless people in older times, such as the great depression

Who were reabsorbed into the labor market when the economy subsequently expanded. The population of modern "homeless people" swelled to record proportions during the largest economic expansion in American history.
posted by The Straightener at 7:27 PM on October 26, 2008


If they can exist during the day nothing seems to stop me from just erecting a shed.

How does a "right to sleep" give you the right to erect some arbitrary structure when a) you already have some place to sleep b) you don't intend to sleep it??

For the record, I think this is only logical. Or for those of you who think it isn't, precisely what is a homeless person supposed to do at night? Die? Certainly, a longer term solution is needed; but people are homeless tonight. There are actually laws against all the other scare stories people are bringing up, drugs, rape, etc, and as has been pointed out, in the Pickton murders the victims were homeless.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:29 PM on October 26, 2008


Ironically, you make my point - most of these women were homeless, sex-workers, drug addicts, or some combination of the three, and were victimized by an upper-middle class businessman.

Pickton ran a pig farm - he was not a upper-class Howe Street businessman.

HIV runs rampant in the drug addict and homeless populations. But when was the last time you heard about some innocent contracting HIV by stepping on a dirty needle while commuting home? It doesn't happen, it's just a bogeyman used to persecute the less fortunate.

I don't follow you. Are you saying that it's acceptable to discard spent needles on the street? Perhaps, fundamentally, we just have different values. I value a city where I can take my kids to Bean Around the World on Fisgard for a coffee, and then head up Government to Kaboodles toy store, and then make a stop a Munro's Books, before walking back home to James Bay without having to watch out for needles that my son (in his toddler days) might pick up, or step in human waste, or (and I'm painting myself as a right-wing reactionary here) be accosted by a zombie whose face is covered in open sores asking for change, or navigate clear of a crack deal.

As well, it is entirely possible to contract Hep C from used needles.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:32 PM on October 26, 2008


There are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons why people would avoid shelters - theft, drugs, loss of freedom, disease. The Toronto weeklies ran all this down pretty well when I was living in Toronto a decade ago. And yes, much of the "homeless problem" is basically down to the mentally ill being kicked out of their care facilities. Which, of course, just makes the shelters that much more difficult to deal with.

Every time I would see people out on the street in winters here - sleeping over a heating grate or whathaveyou - I've thought, 'if that were me, I would be throwing a brick through the nearest window and waiting for the cops to show up and put me in a jail cell for the night'. I don't know how these people do it. Last winter, several homeless people died in Toronto IIRC.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:47 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: you're a homeless person with AIDS living on the street; what, exactly, are you supposed to do at night?

As I pointed out, there are already laws against all the other undesirable behaviour you are describing.

I should add that not every homeless person is there due to bad decisions, nor did every AIDS victim get it from needles or promiscuous sex.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:48 PM on October 26, 2008


And for the record I used to get these awesomely panicked phone calls at work about dudes erecting crazy structures around the city all the time. This one guy called all pissed off about the structure issue once, the conversation went like this:

"This filthy man is building a fucking SKYSCRAPER out of cardboard boxes across from my home, this is unacceptable!"

"What do you want me to do about it?"

"I want you to come get him!"

"What do you mean come get him?"

"Isn't that your job? You work with these people, right? So come get this guy off my property!"

"I'm a social worker, buddy, not a dog catcher. I don't wear a white jacket and I don't carry a butterfly net. We don't just 'come get' people."

"So what should I do? This thing he's building is going to block out the sun by the end of the week."

"Maybe you could talk to him and ask him to take it down?"

"Talk to him?!"

"If you're not comfortable approaching him or you feel unsafe you should call the police and explain the situation to them."

"Call the police?! But that's cruel!"

"It's not cruel, I'm sure the police know who he is and have interacted with him before. They have a special mental health unit that deals with these situations, that is trained to work with the homeless. They'll just ask him nicely to please disassemble the box tower he's building."
posted by The Straightener at 7:48 PM on October 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


Pickton ran a pig farm - he was not a upper-class Howe Street businessman.

Pickton was worth over a million, again IIRC. Though you wouldn't know it to look at him. He had some very valuable real estate there.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:49 PM on October 26, 2008


the model was flawed, a fundamentally bad idea that was rushed into place at the dawn of the crack epidemic

The Straightener, I know you work in this field and I grant you expert status for the sake of this discussion, but these claims about homelessness only going back to the eighties and the crack epidemic sound very strange and unlikely to me.

This very argument, about sleeping on public land, goes back at least to the Black Codes that re-enslaved African-Americans in the 19th century under the guise of criminalizing poverty, and there were anti-vagrancy laws in England in the 16th century (i.e. the 1597 Vagrancy Act.) Just think of Anatole France's famous quip: "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread."

That said, I'd really appreciate enlightenment about the shelter system's genesis. Set us straight, would you?
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:54 PM on October 26, 2008


Being homeless in Canada must be *cold*.

Well, being homeless in Winnipeg in the summer, when it's 30+ degrees celcius (86+F) isn't, but there's a reason there's a west coast migration for the winter. There's a mighty big difference between overnighting in a bus shelter in Vancouver and in Ottawa, Edmonton, or Winnipeg.

Vancouver has some pretty interesting "homes" built into people's hedges, and at the edges of yards. Certainly not built daily. I have no idea if this is an entrenched battle with the owners, if they are tolerated or even welcomed, but it was damn strange to see, coming from colder parts of the GWN. Not that there aren't homeless elsewhere in the winter, but it becomes imperative, as mentioned by others, to find a source of heat, such as a ventilation grate.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:56 PM on October 26, 2008


The Pickton brothers continued farming until they decided to play the real estate game in the '90s.

The $18,000 40-acre farm was now sitting on property valued at more than $7 million, so they sold $3.2 million worth of land between 1993 and 1995 and became overnight millionaires.

The money turned Pickton into a community socialite who often hosted parties at his farm.


So yeah, Pickton was pretty wealthy indeed.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:00 PM on October 26, 2008


This is a political issue -- taxation and allocation of government resources -- that is being decided by unelected judges. I think that's bad. I don't think you have to hate the homeless to think that is bad.
posted by Slap Factory at 8:04 PM on October 26, 2008


Exceptional post, dinsdale. Thank you.

Mental illness and drug addiction are usually cited as the characteristics of a homeless person, but this is not always the case. David Johnston does not seem to be in either category, nor do any others in the video links. They refuse to be enslaved and they insist on their right to exist. The police behavior is appalling, particularly confiscating the meager belongings they have, which is a sleeping bag, the only thing that prevents their death. Shameful. More than shameful.

Although he might have been a little out there on quite a few things, Rousseau got this one right:
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.
Some people refuse to be a part of the machine. But there really isn't a machine; there's only you and me. And we say to those people, "Either comply with our rules and regulations or we will kill you by taking away your blanket and making sure you have no food or water. You will not sleep, eat, or piss unless we say you may do so, within the parameters we design, and then only if you increase our wealth. Otherwise, you will die."

In the U.S. it's even illegal to sleep in your car.
posted by sluglicker at 8:08 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is a political issue -- taxation and allocation of government resources -- that is being decided by unelected judges.

So was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka... damn judges.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:11 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is a political issue -- taxation and allocation of government resources -- that is being decided by unelected judges.

I'm sorry, how is taxation involved here? How are any government resources being allocated here? In fact, government resources are being saved: police resources will not be used to arrest homeless people for building shelters.

The "political issue [...] decided by unelected judges" is one of those classic bits of neo-con jargon, so I guess the illogic probably comes with the territory.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:13 PM on October 26, 2008


KokuRyu: you're a homeless person with AIDS living on the street; what, exactly, are you supposed to do at night?

Erect a tent like the ruling says you can, and hope to god the politicians figured out a way to end the homeless crisis (look at my previous comments in this thread to see my opinion on that). Look, I'm not saying that people shouldn't be allowed to sleep in parks (or perhaps they deserve a safe and clean place to stay), or that there isn't a crisis. But David Arthur Johnston's court challenge and victory has nothing to do with homeless people with AIDS living on the streets. It has everything to do with his personal, weirdo philosophy of being allowed to sleep in people's rosegardens (or in your living room). He's being disingenuous and manipulative when he links his court case with the homeless crisis in Victoria.

I'm also saying that it's not fair to call Victoria's inhabitants petty and bourgeois when they object to tent cities being established in public parks, when the city itself is doing the best it can, with limited resources, to tackle an massive amount of homeless people.

We need a solution, but is it fair to blame Victoria for the lack of housing?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:18 PM on October 26, 2008


... weighing in from Vancouver, maybe a mile from the fabled Downtown Eastside, a neighorhood I spend alot of time in ... the animosity here is not surprising but it is frustrating. It reminds me of competing arts groups getting at each others' throats due to funding cutbacks. That is, the very people who should be allies against a common foe (societal indifference) are taking their frustrations out on each other.

The so-called "homeless" problem is societal (ie: touched on by factors and influences from all over the country, if not the continent) and as such far beyond the means of Vancouver or Victoria to remedy on their own. It's a federal problem. It won't be resolved without significant commitment from the federal government. And that includes honking big gobs of money and research. With Harper and co in "power" for the time being, don't expect this to happen any time soon ... which leaves us with the challenge of tip-toeing through the needles, staying in touch with our empathy and compassion, and otherwise not tearing ourselves apart in the meantime.

I think I'm gonna go smoke a joint.
posted by philip-random at 8:25 PM on October 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


me: What's a homeless person supposed to do?
Kokoryu: Erect a tent like the ruling says you can [...]

Aren't you against this ruling? If you had your way, wouldn't the tent be illegal?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:26 PM on October 26, 2008


the city itself is doing the best it can

This is a misconception. Government social services do not try to help people. Each worker's job is to deny services (money) to as many people as possible. That is their job and their job performance is evaluated on how much money they don't spend. Even though they know a particular applicant is eligible for benefits, they often deny them hoping they will not appeal the decision. A certain percentage do not (or don't know enough legal procedure), and thus they save money.
posted by sluglicker at 8:33 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


my girlfriend's brother is homeless in calgary. you never realize, until you try to help someone in that situation, how the entire system, even the services designed to help, seems geared to preventing people from getting back into society.

Maybe you could wire him money for a bus ticket so he can stay at your place for a while? It's a thought. IDK what your/your girlfriends situation is but it sounds simple enough. My wife's sister has been homeless from time to time but nobody will take her in. Frankly she's a liar, thief and crackhead and can't be trusted (trust me it's worse than I care to detail right now). An unfortunate situation that. It's hard to have a lot of sympathy for people who will rob you blind at the earliest possible opportunity.
posted by MikeMc at 8:34 PM on October 26, 2008


KokuRyu: I'm also saying that it's not fair to call Victoria's inhabitants petty and bourgeois when they object to tent cities being established in public parks, when the city itself is doing the best it can, with limited resources, to tackle an massive amount of homeless people.

It doesn't really matter if the city was making their best attempt or not - it wasn't sufficient and there were still homeless. It was either let them erect shelters or sit back and hope that they'll find it in their hearts to nip off and die of hypothermia somewhere that will make it easier to dispose of their body.

If you really are dealing with limited resources, at least this solution is free.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:37 PM on October 26, 2008


Aren't you against this ruling? If you had your way, wouldn't the tent be illegal?

No, I think it's entirely reasonable for people to set up a shelter to prevent themselves from freezing to death.

However, what I am opposed to is setting up, in an arbitrary location like a public park (as David Arthur Johnston tried to do on the very day of the ruling - in fact, I witnessed him attempt to pitch a tent on the front lawn of the provincial legislature that day, but he was prevented from doing so by Leg security guards) a permanent tent settlement.

After being kicked out of St Anne's Academy, David Arthur Johnston helped set up a semi-permanent camp in Cridge Park. I kind of wonder why they couldn't just go there and pitch tents again.

But this time around a permanent camp was set up by David Arthur Johnston in Mayor's Grove and in the childrens playground, as well as a playing field, without consultation with the community. Given the fact that David Arthur Johnston chooses to be homeless, I must say that I am opposed to open provocation.

It would be great if a parcel of land could be reserved for campers, but for some reason the city and the police have said they will not permit this.

I suspect it's because the city of Victoria already shoulders too much of the burden of the region - and the country's - homeless population. Why make Victoria an even more attractive destination?

The Federal government has got to step up to the plate.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:39 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Vancouver is about ten times as large, and has the political clout to discuss these issues at a provincial or even a national level. Victoria does not.

The provincial government is in Victoria. If the municipal leaders had spines, they would use that to their advantage and direct the tent city to the lawns in front of the legislature. Instead, they waste more money on lawyering and rewrite the hassling guidelines to have the police shift their peak operation to 7 am.

One of the core problems here is that much of the membership of Victoria's political, economic and social establishments themselves live in Oak Bay and Saanich, and thus have powerful disincentives as far as transcending the status quo is concerned. Rather than seeking a region-, province- or nation-wide strategy for addressing mental illness, poverty and everything else that's wrapped up in this thing "homelessness", they'd rather continue the cycle of bullshit.
posted by kowalski at 8:42 PM on October 26, 2008


It would be great if a parcel of land could be reserved for campers

I agree, that's a good solution. Sort of like Dignity Village in Portland, OR.
posted by sluglicker at 8:49 PM on October 26, 2008


However, what I am opposed to is setting up, in an arbitrary location like a public park...a permanent tent settlement.

After being kicked out of St Anne's Academy, David Arthur Johnston helped set up a semi-permanent camp in Cridge Park. I kind of wonder why they couldn't just go there and pitch tents again.


So, "semi-permanent" camps in Cridge Park are ok, but "permanent tent settlements" "in an arbitrary location like a public park" aren't?

Is this making any sort of sense to anyone else? Because it looks like complete nonsense to me.
posted by mediareport at 8:54 PM on October 26, 2008


Since president Hoover is no longer in power and this is Canada, we can't call these new tent cities Hoovervilles. We could call them Cambellvilles, after the BC premier. I doubt we could safely pin the housing crisis on any one Prime Minister so that leaves out Harpervilles, Martinvilles or Cretienvilles.

Seriously, though. Tent cities in parks? This is getting ridiculous.
posted by Pseudology at 8:58 PM on October 26, 2008


KokuRyu: you're a homeless person with AIDS living on the street; what, exactly, are you supposed to do at night?

Well, I'm just throwing this out there, but maybe dispose of your needles in the ample needle disposal receptacles and when you need to take a dump, do it in a publicly-accessible toilet?
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 9:01 PM on October 26, 2008


Oh, KokoRyu, we're on the same page, more or less. But do remember that a lot of good things have been done by crazy activists doing unreasonable things like your David Arthur Johnson. If he didn't exist, nothing would be happening...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:02 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is this making any sort of sense to anyone else? Because it looks like complete nonsense to me.

It seems to make sense to me. A designated space in a public park as opposed to just setting up tents at random locations. One park instead of any/all of the parks I guess.
posted by MikeMc at 9:04 PM on October 26, 2008


So, "semi-permanent" camps in Cridge Park are ok, but "permanent tent settlements" "in an arbitrary location like a public park" aren't?

I suspect you may not be familiar with the geography here. Cridge Park is an unused bit of green space less than a kilometer from Mayor's Grove in Beacon Hill Park. Beacon Hill Park is an exceptionally beautiful wooded city park with playing fields, some natural vegetation, and a children's playing ground. As I mentioned, Johnston (who doesn't have to be homeless), set up his permanent camp (there were about five tents, plus a large tarp) in Beacon Hill Park, and I must say it was an open provocation. This is nothing about justice. Johnston (who chooses to be homeless) has approached this issue as though it were a pissing match.

Chinatown is already somewhat of a no-go zone in terms of bringing kids. The bus stop in front of Chapters on Douglas is a no-go zone for younger kids. Centennial Square is a no-go zone. The cemetery next to Christchurch Cathedral is a no-go zone for kids, as is the small park behind the Law Courts. The wooded area behind the flagpole at Beacon Hill Park (behind the zoo) is a no-go zone.

Can't the childrens playground be left alone?

That said, I don't know why the city and the police have not set aside some parcel of land for campers. Civic elections are just around the corner. Hopefully the new mayor and council will find a solution.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:25 PM on October 26, 2008


That said, I'd really appreciate enlightenment about the shelter system's genesis. Set us straight, would you?

I've mentioned a woman named Tanya Tull here a number of times, I even recommended her Los Angeles based housing agency Beyond Shelter to someone seeking donation recommendations in AskMe just last night. She was involved in the building of the first homeless shelter in Los Angeles. She disowned that project not long after it was completed and has decried the shelter system as fundamentally inhumane ever since. Her explanation for this, which I've heard her tell first hand more than once, was that the idea of the modern homeless shelter was conceived in panic and was never meant to become an institutionalized part of the American urban landscape.

Basically, she was a poverty fighter back in the early 80s, like a lot of early homeless advocates were. There was no such thing as homeless services back then because there was no need for it. Then almost overnight there was this eruption of people living on the streets. It had to do with crack, it had to do with Reagan's dismantling the mental hospital apparatus, it had to do with Reagonomics, it had to do with a lot of things. No matter how you sliced it, the problem was new and it was different than anything poverty fighters had seen before. There were tent cities popping up everywhere. The people who were already on the front lines fighting poverty knew they had a huge crisis unfolding under their noses. So their initial reaction was something like, "HOLY SHIT THERE'S THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE OUT HERE WOMEN WITH KIDS SLEEPING IN THE COLD HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT!"

Which, I suppose, was not an unreasonable response at the time. So they decided we have to do something NOW, we have to build a place to put these people NOW. So they did.

But you know what? Tanya said that by the time they got done building that first homeless shelter the need already way outstripped the shelter's capacity to serve. The problem had gotten worse while they were building. Now they were back to square one.

And in Tanya's opinion, that's where it should have stopped. The next step should have been to step back from the problem, realizing that the initial decision to build warehouse style temporary shelter was a panic decision and that a more comprehensive long term strategy was necessary that addressed the core issues of this new problem (which, it's important to note, weren't very well defined at the time, so their work was really cut out for them).

But that's not what happened. Instead, they just built another shelter. And then another one. And then they started building them in every city all over the country, one after the next. Soon enough the homeless shelter is like this thing that's just presumed to be a part of the urban landscape. Like, how could you have a city without a homeless shelter?! That would be crazy.

In the meantime, it's taken about twenty years to really figure out exactly what it takes to get a dude up off a subway grate and into housing. And it takes a lot of fucking work (former homeless services case manager speaking, here). It takes mental health and addiction resources, it takes substantial amounts of housing subsidy money, it takes human resources to train and staff a community treatment team who can provide the kind of round-the-clock support for the kinds of deep, severe, intractable needs of the homeless population. But, there's a core of smart, dedicated people like Sam Tsemberis at Pathways in NYC and Tanya at Beyond Shelter in LA who have really been getting the art of taking someone off the streets and stabilizing them in housing down to a science.

The worst part is that those shitty, nasty, dangerous shelters aren't even cheap to run. And neither are the jail cells that the homeless wind up in. Nor the emergency rooms, nor the psych crisis beds, nor the detoxes and rehabs, all of which wind up being funded by tax payers. These are the housing resources that the chronic street homeless population rely on; expensive, inhumane, part of an apparatus poorly conceived, poorly implemented and over the years poorly funded and let to fall into shambles.

Yes, it's taken time, will take more time yet, but new methods that are both more humane and more affordable are being put to work that should over time greatly diminish, and, yes, even possibly end the homelessness problem.
posted by The Straightener at 9:27 PM on October 26, 2008 [22 favorites]


there were plenty of homeless people in older times, such as the great depression

when & were there was productive land free for the taking there was a lot less homelessness.
posted by troy at 9:50 PM on October 26, 2008


But random law student musings aside, good job. Being homeless in Canada must be *cold*.

It is, a lot of homeless people in Canada end up on the West coast because they'd freeze to death in the winter anywhere else in the country.

Victoria has to shoulder the burden of homelessness, drugs and petty crime, with little or no help from the surrounding municipalities of Saanich, Oak Bay and Esquimalt. And the province is probably doing the best it can, but, at the end of the day, the Federal government has to step up to the plate.

Absolutely there should be federal money for this, because this is not a problem endogenous to vVctoria, or even to the province. A substantial proportion of the entire country's homeless population ends up in BC because of the climate, and it is deeply unfair for BC to have to house the homeless from other parts of Canada without any financial support from them.
posted by atrazine at 10:47 PM on October 26, 2008


Non Prosequitur writes "Why is this such a painful intractable problem?"

A least a little because of how fricken self centred some people are. A few years back in Calgary they expanded the capacity of the downtown section of the trans Canada highway. As part of this process a large warehouse style retail location was bought out and was sitting empty waiting for the wrecking ball in the spring. A proposal was floated to use this space the goverment owned as an emergency shelter when temperatures dipped to well below freezing. Basically a very temporary space to let people sleep during -30 nights. From the out cry from some homeowners in local neighbourhoods (some as many as 20 blocks away) you'd think they were setting up a permanent combination SuperMax prison/meat packing/rendering plant. Embarrassing it was.

stinkycheese writes "I've thought, 'if that were me, I would be throwing a brick through the nearest window and waiting for the cops to show up and put me in a jail cell for the night'."

This happens a lot.

ten pounds of inedita writes "and when you need to take a dump, do it in a publicly-accessible toilet?"

Have you tried to access a washroom between midnight and 6AM lately? Practically impossible most places if you don't have the scratch to be a paying customer of a 24 hour restaurant. I know that locally the only truly public washrooms I can think of are in city parks and they close during the night and some are closed on a seasonal basis. Supposedly because of abuses for solicitation and drug use.
posted by Mitheral at 11:30 PM on October 26, 2008


May I be the first to say in the thread that the US and Canada are badly in need of socialism? In the US, the Works Project Administration was a step in the right direction. Then the US had the biggest empire on the planet, and the capitalists decided a healthy economy was built on unemployment. (Literally: the theory was that 100% employment would give too much power to labor and cause inflation, so US interest rates were adjusted whenever it looked like too many people had jobs.)
posted by shetterly at 11:32 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


A substantial proportion of the entire country's homeless population ends up in BC because of the climate

Not just the climate. Vancouver and Victoria are both international ports, which is where the drugs come in and as such, many "serious" junkies inevitably gravitate toward us. Finally, Vancouver in particular is somewhat of a boomtown, a city that attracts many with big dreams and limited means. It's easy to stumble here and if you're from some small town a thousand miles away, there's no family or friends around to help you get back on your feet.
posted by philip-random at 11:37 PM on October 26, 2008


Pickton ran a pig farm - he was not a upper-class Howe Street businessman.

KokuRyu: No, Pickton owned a pig farm valued at $6 million dollars. The government actually obtained a $10 million mortgage for the property to fund his defense. He was quite wealthy, and had a reputation for holding huge parties.

Apparently we do have fundamentally different values: unlike you, I'm a humanitarian.
posted by mek at 12:01 AM on October 27, 2008


I live in downtown Victoria. This ruling sucks. Essentially it says that private individuals are allowed to take control of public property if their perceived need is great enough. Which would be fine if the homeless population of Victoria was somehow representative of Victorians. But it isn't. Instead our homeless population is made up of everyone who slips through the cracks in the entire Capitol Region District, the rest of Vancouver Island, and everyone who's heard that the drugs get better the further west you go (don't think we haven't noticed that a sizable chunk of our street people speak french quite fluently). That means everyone else living here can't have public parks because the rest of the Capitol Region District won't take care of their own poverty and homelessness problems. Because the rest of the country would rather give someone a free bus ticket out west, where the drugs are cheap and the winters survivable, than deal with the social issues in their own communities, my neighbors and I have to shoulder the tax burden of cleaning up after the tent cities, paying for extra policing to deal with the resultant street crime, and addiction services to hopefully get people back on their feet. We don't get to have nice things because it's warm here - how is that fair?
posted by mock at 12:18 AM on October 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


mock, to be precise, the ruling is saying that the public can use public property 24 hours a day. You shouldn't feel cheated. You should be glad to know you can have shelter if you're unlucky enough to lose what you have now. Think of it as restoring the commons.

At least, think of it as a step in that direction.
posted by shetterly at 12:32 AM on October 27, 2008


Have you tried to access a washroom between midnight and 6AM lately?

Well, y'know, there's always the possibility of taking a dump at 11 and then not going again until the next morning. IMHO, a more responsible way to take responsibility for one's own health than laying a dookie in the middle of a public park.

Or even walking down to the water and doing it there. Or doing it in a plastic bag and throwing it into a trashbin. There's really no excuse for anyone having to walk through someone's shit. None.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 12:49 AM on October 27, 2008


No, to be precise, the ruling says that one group of people gets to use public property in priority over and to the exclusion of, all other uses. This is not fair. It also implicitly says that my city has to bear the costs of every other region's decision to chintz on social programs merely because it's warm enough to sleep outside without dying here. This is not fair either.
If having a warm place to sleep is a right, then the ruling should have been that governments (on whatever level) must provide social housing. This ruling doesn't do that, rather it says that everyone has the right to sleep in Victoria, at our expense.
posted by mock at 1:06 AM on October 27, 2008


Pickton ran a pig farm - he was not a upper-class Howe Street businessman.

KokuRyu: No, Pickton owned a pig farm valued at $6 million dollars. The government actually obtained a $10 million mortgage for the property to fund his defense. He was quite wealthy, and had a reputation for holding huge parties.


He was a farmer. Most farmers own a lot of land and are paper millionaires. I think my point was that anyone and everyone - not just the wealthy - is a potential killer.

Apparently we do have fundamentally different values: unlike you, I'm a humanitarian.

That's a little below the belt and basically an ad hominem attack, which I guess means I win this argument and you lose.

I would be curious what you consider to be "humanitarian" values. I have no idea what you mean.

If you're talking about the need for a community to value compassion and responsibility for all of its members, well, I probably agree. But where do you draw the line?

I will reiterate: Victoria is being asked to more than its fair share. Johnston does not represent homeless people. It would have been great if Johnston could have asked where to pitch his camp, but he did not. It was a clear provocation. Some homeless people engage in anti-social and unsafe behaviours which affect other people. We need to do more to address this issue, but we need more coordination and more help from the Federal government.

I think that's pretty humane. I'm not sure if it is "humanitarian".
posted by KokuRyu at 1:09 AM on October 27, 2008


I understand that you feel hard done by, but you are not proposing any alternatives, simply hand-wringing and an affront to the current situation. What do you suggest? What can Victoria do? Continue to task the police with ongoing persecution of homeless people?
posted by mek at 1:16 AM on October 27, 2008


We can appeal the ruling based upon its unfairness and stupidity, and we can make the ruling practically useless by using our police force to make it so unpleasant to camp in the places the community has decided it doesn't want people to camp that they'll go elsewhere.

I suggest crown land.
posted by mock at 1:36 AM on October 27, 2008


KokuRyu, it sounds like nothing was being done until Johnston pushed the issue. People who push for change are usually thought annoying by people who benefit from the status quo.

Mock, here's a fine version of a song you might appreciate, "Moving On Song (Go, Move, Shift)":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eJiZutTZMk

Boiled in Lead did an amazing version, but I can't remember if they recorded it.
posted by shetterly at 1:47 AM on October 27, 2008


So you are satisfied with the status quo of using the police and private security firms to harass homeless people, mock?
posted by mek at 1:52 AM on October 27, 2008


I wonder if this will just evolve into the end of public city parks, because I'm sure cities will try to come up with strategies that let them avoid being forced to allow shanty towns in their centers.

Could cities sell or lease park land to private contractors to operate as private green places? A city could pay to have the contractor provide secured perimeters (tall fences that aren't easy to hop, revolving gates that operate with an electronic card you have to buy), entrance fees, large child-friendly areas, clean pay toilets, plenty of benches with no one sleeping on them, and armed private security (safe and helpful for paying customers during business hours, dangerous for intruders after closing time). The parks would become profitable to the city and the contractor, and typical park visitors would get more of what they want: clean and safe greens, benches, and toilets.

Other than the sidewalks and overpasses, there might then be no more public land downtown to occupy, though cities could choose to leave certain parks (or parts of parks) public as a way of concentrating shanties in certain areas where city departments could focus medical, social, and police services paid for in part by visitor fees to the privatized parks. Cities might even run free one-way bus service to such areas.
posted by pracowity at 1:53 AM on October 27, 2008


these things are hard ... sure, I to feel sorry for these homeless and it's sounds very reasonable to let them have at least somke shelter, but then again, the law is the law and breaking the law is not an option; crying out loud how inhumane this is, attacking those who're protecting the law is not a solutions; only providing a better law is.
posted by SocialChili at 2:51 AM on October 27, 2008


mock writes "It also implicitly says that my city has to bear the costs of every other region's decision to chintz on social programs merely because it's warm enough to sleep outside without dying here. This is not fair either."

Are you just railing here or do you think the decision was wrong because of this? If the latter and considering it was a constitutional challenge do you think there are any other constitutional rights that can be infringed in Victoria?

ten pounds of inedita writes "Well, y'know, there's always the possibility of taking a dump at 11 and then not going again until the next morning."

Ya, well people don't always have that kind of control. And what time do the washrooms in Beacon Hill close?

ten pounds of inedita writes "Or even walking down to the water and doing it there. Or doing it in a plastic bag and throwing it into a trashbin. There's really no excuse for anyone having to walk through someone's shit."

These people are homeless, they may not have a plastic bag and IBS could prevent them from making a walk anywhere. No real excuse but as the saying goes: it happens. I've always thought the lack of 24 hour public facilities in downtown areas an intentional failure of public infrastructure to avoid attracting the "wrong" crowd.

pracowity writes "allow shanty towns in their centers"

It seems they've sidestepped this by enforcing the temporary nature of the shelter construction.
posted by Mitheral at 2:52 AM on October 27, 2008


SocialChili writes "the law is the law and breaking the law is not an option"

Well in this case the law was found to be unconstitutional so breaking it is an option with zero consequences for the breaker.
posted by Mitheral at 2:54 AM on October 27, 2008


The way that KokuRyu and Mek are at loggerheads (see what I did there?) is a pretty great summary of the tension over this issue in Canada, I think, if any other US-types are reading and trying to get a gestalt feel.

I have lived in both downtown Vancouver and downtown Victoria, though only for a few months each time, and visited each as recently as this year. They're great cities and I can imagine settling down in either one if I ever stop city-jumping. Both have homeless problems, but comparing them directly is a little like comparing Burbank with Metro LA.

Victoria has been a quiet little retirement community for the last hundred years. It's the city every old Canadian plans on retiring to, like Canada's own little Florida. It's even on an island, for crying out loud. It's exceedingly white and... Victorian, and it's easy to imagine a whole lot of older ladies complaining over their afternoon teas about those smelly people ruining their view of the ocean. It's the sort of place where people do expect to take a walk right through a city's urban center and not see a single needle, graffito or piece of trash. Beautiful city, if a bit Singaporean. Until this drama, I don't think I ever saw more than a single homeless person per day, tops, and I'm a hardcore walker-arounder.

Vancouver is William Gibson's city. It's big, loud, shiny, dirty, much more multicultural; wonderful and terrible at the same time. Unlike Victoria, it has traffic jams and pollution. It has the biggest homeless population in Canada, and the second largest drug problem. A walk through parts of downtown mentioned by Mek above will involve encounters with a dozen or more characters, mostly harmless though they might be, and opportunities to buy a number of illegal items you didn't ever consider before.

Vancouver-people are city people. Victoria people are suburb people. They'll tend to disagree no matter what because their life context is so different. But both are progressive communities, overall, especially by modern US "center-right" standards. Both, and in fact most cities in Canada, could benefit from some sort of cheap, effective and permanent group housing for the otherwise homeless... who will continue to flock to the west coast for the promise of weather and maybe even work. A tent in Edmonton or Winnipeg wouldn't keep you alive in January. In Vancouver and Victoria, you can survive the elements.

Victoria has been isolated and secluded by geography for awhile. Now it's catching up to its big brother and the rest of Canada. A major reason that the eyesore factor seems dramatic and emergent to Victorians is that the background scenery is so much more old-timey pretty to begin with.
posted by rokusan at 3:12 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've always thought the lack of 24 hour public facilities in downtown areas an intentional failure of public infrastructure to avoid attracting the "wrong" crowd.

That. Try finding a public bathroom in Manhattan. Ever.
posted by rokusan at 3:13 AM on October 27, 2008


When someone is sleeping on or around the toilet to avoid going outside, it's no longer a public toilet. And when there's shit and piss on the toilets and no cleaning staff around, you might prefer crapping in the fresh, clean grass.

Public bathrooms have to be monitored, cleaned, and policed 24 hours a day if they're going to be open 24 hours a day, and that's not cheap. Make them token-operated. Let people buy tokens for their own use or to give to others. If people with money pay for those without, people with money will have decent toilets downtown and won't have to put up with other people crapping in the park.
posted by pracowity at 3:33 AM on October 27, 2008


Fascinating discussion going on here, even at 6AM (What I suppose is more like 3AM for the BC MeFites.) Thanks for the post, dinsdale!
posted by Phire at 3:37 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


But this time around a permanent camp was set up by David Arthur Johnston in Mayor's Grove and in the childrens playground, as well as a playing field, without consultation with the community. Given the fact that David Arthur Johnston chooses to be homeless, I must say that I am opposed to open provocation.

It's amost like it's intentionally in a place to provoke debate and publicity! Such 'open provocation' or...civil disobedience, if you will?
posted by jaduncan at 4:06 AM on October 27, 2008


It would have been great if Johnston could have asked where to pitch his camp, but he did not. It was a clear provocation.

KokuRyu keeps returning to this point, but it just doesn't square with what I've seen of that "Love and Fearlessness" video linked in the original post. As shetterly notes, Johnston does bear responsibility for pushing the issue, but if you watch the first half of that video, it's difficult to believe KokuRyu's contention that Johnston could simply "have asked where to pitch his camp" and been given an answer like, "Oh, is that all you wanted? Well, there are a number of fine, quiet spots away from children where you can set up so that the police will leave you alone." Pushing the system for legal justification/clarification of the moment when public property suddenly becomes private is not only a valid thing for a citizen to do, it's also arguably a positive contribution to society.

I understand KokuRyu's frustration, but think she loses the argument herself in personalizing her negative attack against Johnston. She's there and I'm not, I also understand, but so far she's offered nothing to back up the vitriol she's expressed.
posted by mediareport at 5:19 AM on October 27, 2008


Who is this "she"?
posted by pracowity at 5:29 AM on October 27, 2008


*checks user page* Oops. "He." Sorry.
posted by mediareport at 6:00 AM on October 27, 2008


pracowity: "I wonder if this will just evolve into the end of public city parks"

I think it will. If the public space is allowed to be unpleasant for shoppers, commuters, families - well, then, there are lots of malls and private spaces that will welcome the people with money and keep out the drug-addicts and beggars. This is the death knell of the public city center, and any responsible city councillor must know that and act accordingly.
posted by alasdair at 6:33 AM on October 27, 2008


I don't understand the point of this ruling. When it's cold enough that you need to build a shelter, homeless people sleep during the day and stay awake and moving at night so they don't freeze to death. Why is it a plus that you're legally able to build a shelter if it has to be gone before it's time to sleep in it?

Is Victoria just not that cold or something?
posted by giraffe at 6:44 AM on October 27, 2008


Thanks, The Straightener. The message I'm getting is that the shelter system was the first institutional response to homelessness that didn't 'institutionalize' the homeless. In that sense, it seems superior to a system that rounds them up and puts them in prisons, mental hospitals, or the military, as criminals, the insane, or a pool for conscript labor or cannon fodder.

I think I understand your concerns: if a bed for the night is the most we can do, then it is fraught with moral hazard. We're spending money to preserve life at its limit that might otherwise go to human flourishing and the realization of human capacities.

In this way, the shelter system seems to suffer from a lot of the same problems of humanitarian and refugee camps. Just as the flood of human misery after a war or ethnic cleansing can't be staunched, only managed with tent cities that tend to become permanent, the flood of homeless populations after social disruption may have the same effect and similarly unsatisfying solutions.

I wonder if FEMA's much maligned but at least much better funded response meets with your approval: relocate the homeless into trailers and hire sufficient case workers to make definitive plans for transition? Some of the per-person expenditure figures look about the same, if only the homeless could be treated like Katrina victims, i.e. as a real crisis. Of course, the homeless population probably does contain a larger proportion of dual diagnosis folks than even a post-traumatically stressed refugee population would.

This is likely all pie in the sky thinking, of course: with markets dropping and recession/depression looming, municipal social services won't really be improving any time soon. :-(
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:08 AM on October 27, 2008


Well, y'know, there's always the possibility of taking a dump at 11 and then not going again until the next morning. IMHO, a more responsible way to take responsibility for one's own health than laying a dookie in the middle of a public park.

I have to admit my jaw hit the floor after reading that.

Did you really suggest that homeless people shit according to a schedule? And that, in response to the request that public bathrooms remain public at night?

I've got to say I'd love to be a salesperson in a store and see you come in asking to use the bathroom. I'd get a lot of pleasure telling you that if you shat according to the schedule like you were supposed to, you wouldn't have to bother us about it. Now you'll have to hold it in until your next scheduled shit, tough luck for you.
posted by splice at 7:09 AM on October 27, 2008


I've always thought the lack of 24 hour public facilities in downtown areas an intentional failure of public infrastructure to avoid attracting the "wrong" crowd.

This kind of logic comes up in a lot of arguments against more compassionate public policy. Simply put, the nicer you are to people in need, the more of them that will come knocking on your door. This is why the only long term "solution" worth discussing to the homeless problem is societal (ie: a strategy demanding contributions of not just the immediate affected community but the entire nation, because it's true, the vast percentage of the people on the streets of Vancouver and Victoria are NOT locals).

I live near a very nice park in Vancouver. I can only imagine how annoying it would be if the "homeless" just started moving in, erecting structures, calling it "home". And yet, I can't help but wonder whether this is EXACTLY what should happen. The "homeless" are not going away. The economy's in the dumps. People will continue to flock to bigger centers chasing all too often naive dreams of fortune and falling through the cracks when they stumble. Sweeping "them" out of plain sight, hiding "them" in shelters, giving "them" free bus tickets to the next town down the line -- how is any of this going to force us to take a good, hard, sober, open-minded and committed look at the situation, involving input (and ACTION) from politicians, businessmen, the police, social workers, the medical community and most of all the so-called general public? This is the only way that we're ever going get to the other side of this mess.

Either that, or we could start building concentration camps. Now, there's a solution, modestly proposed.
posted by philip-random at 8:46 AM on October 27, 2008


"It also implicitly says that my city has to bear the costs of every other region's decision to chintz on social programs merely because it's warm enough to sleep outside without dying here. This is not fair either."

"Are you just railing here or do you think the decision was wrong because of this? If the latter and considering it was a constitutional challenge do you think there are any other constitutional rights that can be infringed in Victoria?"

I think the decision was wrong because of this. It takes away the right of the community here to determine how public land should be used for the common good. The reaction to this by the municipal government will be to get rid of parks (we're already trying to save Cridge park from being destroyed by the city), which sucks for those of us who live here. Mostly I have a problem with this decision because it re-balances the scales of individual vs collective rights towards individuals - setting up a situation which is practically the definition of "tragedy of the commons". As well, I have real problems with the fairness of this ruling. Anyone in the country has the right to sleep in public parks, but practically speaking there are only two cities where this is actually possible due to climate. This effectively uses a trick of geography to foist the social ills of the rest of the country to those two cities. That makes it a bad ruling.
posted by mock at 9:16 AM on October 27, 2008


It has everything to do with his personal, weirdo philosophy of being allowed to sleep in people's rosegardens (or in your living room)

Is it that extreme? I had the impression he was more interested in public or community property. Munich, Germany has a similar law on the books that allows for indefinite habitation along the shores of public waterways. But you can't just set up shop on someone's private property.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:33 AM on October 27, 2008


Is Victoria just not that cold or something?

It's Seattle with less rain. Probably the best weather in all of Canada.
posted by rokusan at 9:36 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Does this mean we can have another Victoria meetup? Under the stars, perhaps?

I do tend to agree that most activists make progress through inconveniencing others - whether the critical mass bikers, or the logging road disrupters, or the homeless squatters. But setting up camp literally within the swingsets and monkey bars of a children's playground and leaving all kinds of drug paraphernalia in a public park is, as KR says, beyond the pale and lost them the support of a lot of progressive people, like (apparently) KokuRyu himself.

The tax argument is an interesting one -- while Victoria does have the lions-share of the regional and even national social problems, it also benefits hugely from having those regional Saanichians and Oak Baylees coming downtown to spend their money and/or work and party, not to mention the Provincial government. So I am not so sure it isn't a wash from the tax side.

However, the current (outgoing) mayor is a laissez-faire businessman prick of the highest order and has accomplished nothing in his 9 years, despite being an architect and therefore, one might imagine, familiar with planning, building, and urban design. In fact, he just published a lengthy whine in this weekend's paper complaining about how misunderstood poor little Victoria is.
posted by Rumple at 9:36 AM on October 27, 2008


mock writes "Anyone in the country has the right to sleep in public parks, but practically speaking there are only two cities where this is actually possible due to climate"

People sleep outside in cities across Canada. There are lots of people sleeping in parks in Calgary for example. And I'd bet there are quite a few people sleeping in parks across the island but you just don't know about it because they are flying under the radar. When I was living in Cordova I know there were people sleeping on the beach there.
posted by Mitheral at 9:38 AM on October 27, 2008


Mitheral: "Have you tried to access a washroom between midnight and 6AM lately? Practically impossible most places if you don't have the scratch to be a paying customer of a 24 hour restaurant."

This was a crisis-level situation in my city - Grand Rapids, MI. I work primarily with the homeless / transient poor downtown and things got completely out of hand this past year. We have a (rapidly growing) homeless population on between 1,200 and 1,600 at any given time. Manageable, when compared to Chicago's 80,000 or more.

Anyway, there is absolutely NO PLACE to go to the bathroom downtown between midnight and 5 a.m. Furthermore, sentencing guidelines in most Michigan cities mandate that an individual who is cited for public urination must also be cited for indecent exposure and register as a sex offender. This is huge, because all of the shelters and clinics in the Heartside district in Grand Rapids are within 500 yards of a school or childcare provider and are off limits to people on the registry.

We have no bathrooms, forcing people to go in the streets - but if you do and are caught, you are a sex-offender and can no longer stay on the streets. We've created two classes of homeless people - those who can stay at the shelters and those who must hide from the police by sleeping near the river. All for want of a port-o-pottie.

So our church decided to step in and protest this - we erected a dozen bright orange portable restrooms on the main street downtown and now offer a permanent restroom in our parking lot - well-lit, 24/7 - until the city finally takes action. We have a half dozen other downtown churches on board as well.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:45 AM on October 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


People sleep outside in cities across Canada. There are lots of people sleeping in parks in Calgary for example. And I'd bet there are quite a few people sleeping in parks across the island but you just don't know about it because they are flying under the radar. When I was living in Cordova I know there were people sleeping on the beach there.

True as that may be, there is no arguing with the fact that there is a seasonal migration of Canada's homeless west (both voluntary and forced). This ruling reinforces that migration, and imposes its costs on the westernmost cities, rather than on the originating cities where it belongs.
posted by mock at 10:11 AM on October 27, 2008


That's awesome Baby_Balrog.

mock writes "This ruling reinforces that migration, and imposes its costs on the westernmost cities, rather than on the originating cities where it belongs."

You seem to be equating the homeless with a local generation problem like sewage treatment. Calgary, Winnipeg or Montreal aren't creating homeless people like acid rain, its a societal problem. These people are still, for the most part, Canadian citizens with the right to travel and free association. Depending on what metric you use people originating from out of province become official residents in as little as 30-90 days at which point they _are_ Victorians. While a case may be made that more money should be coming from Provincial and Federal sources to help Victoria out the lack of funding doesn't give the city the right to infringe Charter freedoms.
posted by Mitheral at 10:48 AM on October 27, 2008


While a case may be made that more money should be coming from Provincial and Federal sources to help Victoria

A good case. Taxes for programs to help the homeless should be assessed across Canada but spent where needed.
posted by pracowity at 11:02 AM on October 27, 2008


I disagree. Poverty is absolutely a local generation problem. If social programs and opportunities existed in their own communities, fewer people would leave. I agree that the problem is also societal, but as long as we have the d-bags currently occupying Ottawa, that's unlikely to get fixed. I object to this ruling because it codifies the practice our neighbors to the east use, free bus tickets west. I would rather have seen a ruling that requires social housing be created in every community. As it stands, the dynamic that has been created is a race to the bottom to see who can have the fewest public goods to avoid being the homeless destination of choice. I sympathize with the goal of the ruling, but I can see the rather obvious unintended consequences of it, and I'd rather it didn't fall out where I live.
posted by mock at 11:13 AM on October 27, 2008


I think what really rankles me is the misconception in this thread that bourgeois, insensitive Victoria is somehow neglecting the situation, and that homeless advocates have no other choice but to go to the Supreme Court. Although the process imperfect, and the people involved cannot represent everyone, there are positive steps being made in Victoria to address this crisit:

Task force has housed 200 of city's homeless; coalition close to target, aims to get 1,550 people off streets in five years

Despite criticism that street problems are getting worse in Victoria, targets to house the homeless are close to being met by member agencies of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, executive director Jill Clements said yesterday.... The coalition grew out of last year's Mayor's Task Force on Breaking the Cycle of Mental Illness, Addictions and Homelessness. The independent, non-profit society was first announced in February and began work in earnest this summer.

Ted Hughes, who is a respected former AG, judge and mediator in BC, is the co-chair of the coalition.

I suppose you could say that the Coalition can be considered a credible organization because the Premier refuses to meet with them.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:54 PM on October 27, 2008


rokusan:

Kelowna's weather is better.
posted by tehloki at 1:04 PM on October 27, 2008


They also have more homeless population per capita
posted by tehloki at 1:05 PM on October 27, 2008


Slightly off topic: They're trying a Housing first program here in Salt Lake City and the results are promising. It's just for the chronically homeless but it's a start. Some more links.
posted by effwerd at 3:05 PM on October 27, 2008


Thanks, The Straightener. The message I'm getting is that the shelter system was the first institutional response to homelessness that didn't 'institutionalize' the homeless. In that sense, it seems superior to a system that rounds them up and puts them in prisons, mental hospitals, or the military, as criminals, the insane, or a pool for conscript labor or cannon fodder.

Heeey, sorry for the super delayed response, I'm a social worker with the drug treatment court in Philly right now and don't get online much during the day.

I think Tanya's main point was that the temporary shelter model was the wrong response to the burgeoning homelessness problem, but they didn't realize it until after the fact. They thought they were up against an acute crisis that would be best met with temporary measures, but really they were seeing the leading edge of a more systemic, ongoing crisis where the most vulnerable urban populations who had held on by a thread for decades were finally having the table legs kicked out from under them by things like crack cocaine and rightwing public policies that gutted resources for the poor. These people weren't just losing their homes for brief stretch the way you see happening in middle class towns with the mortgage crisis, they had fallen out of society entirely. Many of them due to addiction or mental illness were totally unemployable and had little hope of returning to the labor market, and therefore had little hope of gaining access to new housing.

Of course, this was the Reagan era, so the process of finding intelligent solutions to this new, intractable set of social problems was confounded by the perpetuation of the myth that these people were simply lazy and homelessness was actually a perfectly suitable penalty for their refusal to participate in the labor market.

Tanya knew all this at the time, she knew exactly what was going to happen. As cities started throwing up shelters left and right, she knew that what had happened was the creation of a new underclass, "the homeless," who wouldn't be expected to return to the social mainstream. Shelters were meant to be effective solution for what was first perceived to be an acute housing crisis but unfortunately became warehouses for America's new caste of untouchables.
posted by The Straightener at 5:09 PM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I have to admit my jaw hit the floor after reading that.

So what you're telling me is that you didn't read the following paragraph and are cherry-picking in order to score political points? Good for you. Hope that works out for you.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 8:13 PM on October 27, 2008


unlike you, I'm a humanitarian.

So I expect you've got a garden open to the homeless? If we're getting all political-is-personal about this.
posted by rodgerd at 1:05 AM on October 28, 2008


Yeah, the drama queens, the indignation junkies, and the poo-flinging sarcasto-monkeys always make it hard to continue a decent conversation.
posted by pracowity at 1:42 AM on October 28, 2008


So I expect you've got a garden open to the homeless? If we're getting all political-is-personal about this.

I don't have to defend myself to you, but I assure you that my involvement with Vancouver's homeless population does not begin or end with commenting in Metafilter threads. If you care to know more you are welcome to contact me.
posted by mek at 2:09 AM on October 28, 2008


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