Encampment clearances are another common response. But these measures are expensive, ineffective, and inhumane when people have nowhere else to go, said Anna Cooper. “We shouldn’t be using resources to constantly displace people from public spaces to nowhere. It's a bad policy, which is doomed to fail, because people have to occupy space,” she said.
Dr. Rose agreed, adding that these measures “often have the perverse outcome of supporting what they’re trying to work against.” His research has found that being forced to relocate or stripped of belongings can create setbacks in people’s efforts to improve their situation.
Displacement from parks can also push people to take shelter in more isolated spaces where they face increased health and safety risks, new research shows.
On top of the ethical and economic issues, park clearances often rest upon the shaky foundation of bylaws that are “constitutionally suspect,” Cooper said.
Some cities have had their bylaws prohibiting sheltering in parks struck down, on the grounds that they violate individual rights to safety and security of the person, set out in Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
While some cities have worked to bring their bylaws into alignment with these rulings, many have not. A key reason these bylaws continue to exist, said Cooper, is due to a lack of resources to challenge them.
“As a homeless person, you can't go to your local Legal Aid office and ask for funding for a lawyer to help you challenge a bylaw,” she said. “There is a huge access-to-justice issue where there's just no funding.”
In light of these realities, it’s easy to wonder what the alternatives are to our current approaches. Fortunately, we can look to Canadian cities that are showcasing other possibilities.
To learn about how cities are working to put non-displacement into practice, see Part 2. And to learn about how creative park programming is connecting communities across housing status, read Part 3.