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Group threatens to bus homeless people to councillors' doors

'Frankly, this threat is a despicable abuse of these individuals that further victimizes them instead of helping them,' says Barrie mayor, and turns homeless people into 'political pawns'
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An anonymous, unnamed group has said it will bus homeless people from across Ontario to city councillors’ homes if they don’t reconsider and repeal new council policies addressing chronic homelessness.

Calling itself Barrie Express Bus, the group says it would use public bus networks, private transportation and charter coach transportation directly to homes of council members. And it says digital advertising that lays the blame for the increased homeless presence, on council, would be purchased.

Barrie Express Bus sent an email letter to this effect to Mayor Alex Nuttall and all other council members.

It says council policies “could potentially criminalize acts of compassion towards people experiencing homelessness in the city.” 

Nuttall responded late Wednesday morning.

“We won't respond to threats that seek to turn vulnerable citizens experiencing homelessness into political pawns and, frankly, this threat is a despicable abuse of these individuals that further victimizes them instead of helping them,” he told BarrieToday.

Last week, by direct motion, council unanimously passed a wide-ranging motion containing measures to deal with drug addiction, mental health, public safety, panhandling, shelter, counselling and feeding the hungry, along with housing the homeless. It commits as much as $825,000 to these measures during each of the next two years.

Barrie’s bylaws, protocols and processes could be changed 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 would 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 instead to local social service agencies.

“Instead of criminalizing acts of kindness and limiting essential resources, we demand you focus on initiatives that address the root causes, such as increasing affordable housing options, providing mental health and addiction support, and collaborating with community organizations to offer comprehensive assistance to those in need,” the letter reads.

Nuttall said that work is already being done.

“Council and our public service is taking this issue extremely seriously and working to provide long-term solutions that address the homeless crisis and to empower our social service agencies who already have the resources in place to assist the city’s most vulnerable population,” he said.

“Our public service is seeking to help those experiencing homelessness while addressing community safety concerns in parks and neighbourhoods," the mayor added. 

Barrie Express Bus responded to an email message from BarrieToday, asking that it put people’s names to the group.

“Barrie Express Bus is the name of this project. We will remain unnamed and anonymous as offering a homeless person transportation to another community is considered controversial by some,” the group replied.

In the letter it calls itself “a group of citizens deeply committed to social justice and the well-being of all members of our community.”

Barrie Express Bus says it’s disappointed with council’s new policies.

“Outlawing acts of giving food or money to those in need, prohibiting the use of tents and tarps on public land, and considering a ban on giving money to panhandlers only exacerbates the challenges faced by individuals experiencing homelessness,” it reads. “It fails to acknowledge the underlying issues contributing to homelessness and shifts blame away from the responsibility of the government to provide meaningful solutions.”

The group says homelessness is a complex issue requiring compassionate and comprehensive solutions. It also says there has been a lack of collaboration and consultation with those involved with the causes of chronic homelessness.

Council’s new policies were approved through a direct motion without notice, by an 11-0 recorded vote, on May 17.

City council’s general committee is next scheduled to meet May 31.