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City's homelessness plan called 'undemocratic' and 'mean'

'It adds another layer of barriers for people who rely on these services for their survival,' says advocate
2022-05-26 Dwntwn Homeless MB
A homeless person sleeps in the doorway of a church in downtown Barrie.

Barrie city council’s will could become (by)law on Wednesday night.

Addressing chronic homelessness and public safety measures, a May 17 direct motion was approved unanimously by council that day and could be approved by council in bylaw form on June 21.

The bylaws also contain measures to deal with drug addiction, mental health problems, shelter, counselling, limiting camping in city parks feeding the hungry in public places, and contains a panhandling ban.

Jennifer van Gennip, a member of the Barrie Housing and Homelessness Justice Network, first sounded the alarm on Twitter about these bylaws.

“Barrie city council (is) set to pass a bylaw this Wednesday night that criminalizes providing survival items to unhoused people on public property, with zero public engagement,” she said. “It's undemocratic and it's mean. This is not how we take care of each other.”

Van Gennip had more to say Tuesday afternoon.

“This new bylaw, as we understand it, will make it illegal for people, including charitable organizations, to provide food, clothing or sleeping gear out on city property to people who are experiencing homelessness” she told BarrieToday. “This has significant implications for organizations funded to do this work, for mutual aid groups and even for individuals.

“It adds another layer of barriers for people who rely on these services for their survival," van Gennip added. “We recognize the city feels pressure to do something about homelessness in the downtown. We would prefer to sit down and discuss options that will be more effective and don't violate human rights.”

Mayor Alex Nuttall said the bylaws will reflect not only what council wants, but other stakeholders as well.

“We will be working through to tomorrow (Wednesday) night to ensure any bylaws enacted represent the full intent of our previously approved motion at Barrie city council,” he said. “I have been meeting with organizations for months now on this and look forward to continuing to do so. Our meetings with residents, agencies and professionals is where a large portion of the motion has originated from.”

The bylaws city council will consider Wednesday night come with great detail.

Bill 67 reads in part that: "No person shall display, set up, sell or offer for sale or provide any good, product, service, item, activity or literature within a public park whether an exchange or funds has taken place or not unless authorized to do so. No person shall give away, exchange or otherwise provide at no charge, items, products, samples of items or products, or any other similar item including but not limited to food, clothing, tents, tarps or other similar item used as a shelter, to assist with sleeping or protection from the elements to members of the public from any public park unless authorized to do so. No person shall use a tent or sunshade within a public park unless such tent or sunshade is solely supported by no more than one pole and having no more than one wall or side or unless authorized to do so."

This also applies to Barrie’s waterfront parks and dog-off-leash parks, along with Memorial Square and Meridian Place on Dunlop Street East.

In part, Bill 68 reads that: "No person shall sell, offer for sale, or provide due to or through the exchange of funds, any product, service or items from any city property, unless authorized by the city. No person shall give away, exchange or otherwise provide at no charge, items, products, samples of items or products, or any other similar item including but not limited to food, clothing, tents, tarps or other similar item used as a shelter, to assist with sleeping or protection from the elements to members of the public from any city property, unless authorized by the city. The provisions of this bylaw shall be enforced by a municipal law enforcement officer, police officer, peace officer, or other individual duly appointed for the purpose of enforcing this bylaw. No person shall obstruct, hinder, or otherwise interfere with a property standards officer, municipal law enforcement officer, provincial offences officer, police officer, or other duly appointed individual in the lawful carrying out of their duties and responsibilities under the provisions of this bylaw."

It also reads that every person who contravenes any provision of this bylaw is guilty of an offence under the provisions of the Provincial Offences Act (POA) and is liable on conviction to a penalty not exceeding $5,000, exclusive of costs, subject to the provisions of the Act.

A public meeting will be scheduled in late summer about chronic homelessness, addictions and mental health supports in Barrie.

“I do look forward to the public meeting to be held at the community safety meeting in September,” Nuttall said, “where we hope to get more ideas on how to help individuals experiencing homelessness, while maintaining community safety in Barrie.”

Like many people, van Gennip has problems with a direct motion of council, introduced with no notice, leading to these bylaws.

“The process has been unusual,” she said. “Normally, these kinds of things would come through general committee, then to council.

“Since the original motion from May 17 was made without notice at a city council meeting, and the bylaw amendments are also coming on a council meeting agenda, there is no path for public input in the process," van Gennip added.

The May 17 motion gives Michael Prowse, the city’s chief administrative officer, the task of implementing these measures and he is to consider and/or utilize a number of ways to address chronic homelessness, and enhance Barrie’s public safety.

Ontario government funding will be requested for additional financial support for a rapid access addiction medicine clinic, and to provide more beds and to increase the hours of operation or provide for a similar organization that gives long-term counselling and treatment.

The province will be asked to approve money for a family reunification fund for transportation costs and to help reunite individuals with families or support groups, and pay for operation of a shuttle service for individuals released from Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) in Penetanguishene.

A cooling and warming centre for at-risk individuals funding is requested, along with money for daily meal programs currently being offered on public land and in city parks, for the Salvation Army or similar organizations to support a lunch program and for food security programs through agencies to reduce the needs associated with panhandling.

Permanent funding from the province and the County of Simcoe is requested for the county’s mobile outreach pilot program in downtown Barrie, if it’s deemed to be successful by the city and the county.

Changes are planned to Barrie’s bylaws, protocols and processes to prohibit the use or distribution of tents or tarps in city parks or on public land without a permit, to prohibit the distribution of food and grocery products in public spaces without a permit and to reduce the time required to address camping in parks and the storage of goods in parks or public places.

There will be methods to prohibit payment to panhandlers on city streets, intersections and highway ramps, along with placing signs on city off-ramps to discourage panhandling or financial support for panhandlers, and encourage donations to the local social service agencies instead.

The city will work with the county and the province on ways to build more supportive housing for community members experiencing adverse mental health or addictions. Supportive housing is a combination of affordable housing with intensive and trauma-informed co-ordinated services to help people struggling with chronic physical and mental-health issues to maintain stable housing and receive appropriate health care.

The city will also appeal to the county for funding to help individuals make the transition from unemployment to employment, through training opportunities.

City staff will also apply for any provincial or federal funding available to support the plan.

Funding to $825,000 annually for two years will be available from the city’s re-investment reserve to help pay for these initiatives, as required. 

If necessary, Prowse is authorized to waive the city’s purchasing bylaw to award any items or services required to undertake the plan’s actions. He will also provide quarterly updates to the community safety committee regarding the effectiveness of the options undertaken from these actions.