City must make a tent city plan and stick to it
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.