During the testimony before the Council, representatives from Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, Gilbert Centre, John Howard Society for Simcoe Muskoka spoke in favor of helping people facing homelessless and drug issues rather than having the involvement of Barrie police.
“There is a dire need for housing that is safe, affordable, sustainable and accessible,” said Sarah Tilly, harm reduction program manager for the Gilbert Centre. She said involving police will decrease the safety of homeless people.
Garbage and needles surrounding the homeless people have been used to justify the removal of homeless people. Tilly asked to fund garbage collection and needle disposal kiosk surrounding the encampments “to ensure that people are not disposing of used drugs, equipment, drug equipment on the ground.”
Mary Anne Denny-Lusk, chair of Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, brought council’s attention to the low crime rate in the city to argue that people facing homelessness and drug addiction are not criminals but rather victims of housing and war on drugs policies.
To be sure every person panhandling on the side of the road is in a more vulnerable position than those of us sitting in our locked vehicles at red light. And every person trying to sleep in a tent by the road in the woods is more vulnerable than those of us tucked in our beds in our locked climate controlled houses,” she said.
Susanna McCarthy, executive director of the John Howard Society for Simcoe Muskoka called out the heavy handedness towards acts committed by the vulnerable groups.
“Many of the behaviors that we’re penalizing are not unique to unsheltered individuals in our community. Individuals who are housed break the law, individuals who are housed consume substances, and sometimes they do it in public. Individuals who are housed have fires in their backyard, they have parties, they play music outdoors. They don’t put trash in the proper bin. But we don’t heavily surveil these people,” she said.
McCarthy also questioned the change in approach by the city to deal with homelessness and drug addiction.
“Why does the police response to a social issue seem to be the best way forward? It’s short sighted to think that moving people out of their current locations will somehow reduce a risk or liability to the city. It simply moves a liability to a different place,” she said.