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Analysis

Right-Wing Councillors And Business Groups Are Targeting the Homeless in Municipalities Across British Columbia

Business groups pushing troubling anti-homeless bylaws, critics say

Critics say by-laws recently introduced by local governments in British Columbia disproportionately punish the homeless and do more harm than good.

Earlier this month, the City of Surrey passed a by-law making it illegal to park and sleep in an RV on city streets between 10pm and 6am. Other cities, meanwhile, have introduced fines against “aggressive panhandling” over the past year.


Here’s a short list of these measures, in neighboring jurisdictions:

  • Maple Ridge, $100 fines for “aggressive panhandling.”
  • Quesnel, $500 fines for those who “are found loitering in certain areas of downtown.”
  • Salmon Arm, $50 fines for people sitting on sidewalks and asking for money.
  • Penticton, $100 fines for people sitting on downtown sidewalks.

Trish Garner, a community organizer with the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, told PressProgress:

“Growing numbers of people are having to panhandle for money and sleep on our sidewalks or in RVs because of the cost of housing on one side and deeply inadequate incomes on the other. These are the systemic issues we urgently need to change and these municipal measures do nothing to address those.”

Dave Diewert, an organizer with the Alliance Against Displacement, said the anti-poverty policies are often driven by business and real estate interests:

“Both of these kinds of measures are really targeting people who are low-income, who are homeless, and targeting them in a manner that furthers the criminalization of their survival … Often these kinds of measures in both of these cases are driven by the interests of business or property owners.”

Salmon Arm City Councillor Sylvia Lindgren echoed that view, telling PressProgress  that the “pressure” to adopt anti-homeless bylaws is coming from local business groups:

“There has been pressure from some members of the business community who feel that the panhandlers negatively affect their businesses … Prohibiting panhandling downtown has not ended panhandling, it has simply moved the problem to another area of town.”

Penelope Gurstein, a professor at the University of British Columbia, also said some local jurisdictions on the outskirts of Vancouver are pursuing such measures with the intention of forcing homeless people out of the suburbs:

“It’s not going to address what the underlying cause is. What they’re hoping is they’ll just go away. They’ll just move to another community. The fines will just keep adding up, then what are they going to do? Throw them in jail?”

 

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