City must make a tent city plan and stick to it

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion -

Now that both Peter­bor­ough city and county have banned camp­ing in city parks, the “tent city” con­ver­sa­tion should fo­cus on how to best deal with peo­ple who use the shel­ter sys­tem.

Forcibly kick­ing 40 or so ten­ters out of Vic­to­ria Park is not the way to go, de­spite what at least two city coun­cil­lors be­lieve.

Evic­tion would re­quire po­lice of­fi­cers haul­ing away home­less peo­ple. There would be lots of noise, some phys­i­cal con­fronta­tion and all sorts of bad blood cre­ated.

Some peo­ple living in those tents would re­turn and keep re­turn­ing. That ugly scene would play out again and again.

Many city res­i­dents say they would be OK with that. Watch­ing po­lice fight with men and women who have men­tal health and addiction prob­lems might change some minds.

At any rate, Northcrest Ward coun­cil­lors An­drew Beamer and Stephen Wright should stop talk­ing about im­me­di­ately re­mov­ing the ten­ters. They have made their point on be­half of peo­ple in their ward who com­plain about the tents.

Con­tin­u­ing to stir up an­i­mos­ity is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Of­fi­cial pol­icy is to work with the ten­ters to get them out of parks in and into some form of hous­ing. Every­one should let that process work out over the next few weeks.

That said, the ban might have to be en­forced at some point. Mayor Diane Ther­rien weak­ened the city’s po­si­tion when she told a meet­ing of ten­ters and their ad­vo­cates that it won’t be.

The city’s mes­sage should in­clude a soft dead­line for evic­tion: three weeks would seem about right.

It also makes sense to es­tab­lish that the cur­rent ten­ters are grand­fa­thered, not le­gal. The ban will be in force for any­one not al­ready living in a park, and any new tents that go up will be dis­man­tled.

St. John’s Angli­can Church, which in­vited home­less peo­ple to set up on church prop­erty, has adopted that ap­proach and it seems to be work­ing.

With any luck, no one will have to be evicted from a park. But if evic­tions are nec­es­sary three weeks out, the num­ber should be small.

Fin­ing some­one who is home­less, as the by­law al­lows, would be point­less and bor­der on cru­elty. How­ever, any­one with a reg­u­lar income who is camp­ing out in sup­port should be fined. They mean well but they are not help­ing the sit­u­a­tion. Bet­ter that they spend their days in the park work­ing with the city to find bet­ter op­tions for the home­less than their nights in a tent ral­ly­ing sup­port for a messy ar­range­ment that will eventually blow up.

And blow up it will. Sev­eral home­less peo­ple who spent time in the park have com­mented on how un­safe they felt. Drugs, al­co­hol and men­tal instabilit­y in an un­su­per­vised com­mu­nity at­mos­phere vir­tu­ally guar­an­tee an in­ci­dent will oc­cur.

That leads to an­other is­sue the city is deal­ing with: how “bar­rier free” should the city’s su­per­vised shel­ter sys­tem be?

The or­ga­ni­za­tion that had been con­tracted to op­er­ate the Warm­ing Room has a lib­eral pol­icy on the use of drugs and al­co­hol. The Brock Mis­sion, which is just start­ing to re­build its more per­ma­nent hous­ing, is much stricter.

It’s a del­i­cate bal­ance in­volv­ing access to coun­selling and treat­ment, con­cern over en­abling ad­dic­tions and safety of other res­i­dents.

No solution will be per­fect, but a clear pol­icy needs to be de­vel­oped.

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